Last week, news broke nationally that a Utah high school had disciplined students for filming and posting themselves uttering vulgar racial slurs. This story underscores the need for individuals, families and schools to critically analyze what they are doing to root out invectives and racial vulgarities.
In an edited video posted to Instagram, five Weber High School female students chanted a phrase that, when played backwards by the app, revealed a string of vulgarities and racially derogatory slang. In the video, the girls appear to be enjoying their time together on fall break. Their nonchalance exacerbates the egregiousness of their language. At worst, they chant with malice; at best, they chant with ignorance. It is up to families, schools and communities to ensure all Utah students understand the implications of their language.
The high school said it would like to implement anti-discrimination and implicit bias training and is considering several options, including one produced by the U.S. Department of Justice. Communities must collectively define and transmit the proper strictures of pro-social behavior. Incorporating trainings and workshops in schools may help ensure students and professionals are equipped with the understanding and the tools to act responsibly and respectfully and to flourish in a diverse society. While it may be hard for some to envision the tangible ramifications of racial slurs (beyond interpersonal offense), a Brookings report discusses how implicit bias can perpetuate “socio-economic, gender and racial gaps.”
There’s a role to play for schools and institutions here, but the primary source of education on this topic will always be the family and friends. From a young age, families should work to ensure that children know how to act respectfully and without animus or bias toward others despite what they may glean from media portrayals or cultural cues.
At a minimum, families can help ensure that children know they will be increasingly accountable for their actions and language in the digital age, as the example of these students illustrates. That does not mean it is acceptable to experiment with discriminatory language as long as the camera is off — rather, it underscores the reality that children must be attentive that their posts on social media enter the public domain, no matter their privacy settings. As such, they should always consider how the content they post reflects on and impacts themselves, their families and their communities.
While these students are said to be deeply apologetic for the language they used far too flippantly, their mistake can be an example for the community that families and schools must make inclusiveness a bedrock of their educational goals.