Texas A&M students accused of yelling racial slurs at visiting high schoolers may not be facing any discipline. But multiple investigations into that incident and interviews with the students involved seem to show that some of them simply don't understand why what they did could be construed as racist.
On February 9, while about 60 minority high school students visiting from a charter school in Dallas took a campus tour, they were welcomed with racial taunts from some white A&M kids. In the first incident, an A&M student approached two of the high school girls, throwing pennies in a fish pond, and allegedly asked them what they thought of her mini Confederate flag earrings. Then, five minutes later, near Walton Hall, a group of white A&M students at a picnic table yelled, "Go back where you came from," as the group passed. Multiple high schoolers and counselors in the group recalled hearing a female yell the N-word.
In interviews with police and campus officials, those students basically denied everything. (And police almost always followed that with, okay, so if nothing happened, why did the tour guide leading the group call the police? The students said they did not know.)
But in the case of the girl with Confederate flag earrings, she still appeared confused as to why making sure they saw Confederate garb would offend a couple of black kids. In fact, in her interview with student affairs officials on campus, she even took a swing at Muslims.
First, here's how she explained the incident to student affairs: After the high schoolers saw her earrings, one of the girls “said she hoped I didn't think she was stupid and I said I didn't. I didn't taunt them in any way or ask them if they liked them. I didn't in any way say that.”
Then, in an interview with a residential hall director, the director tries to explain to her that, whether or not you intend to be offensive, sometimes people feel uncomfortable with the Confederate flag because of what it inherently represents (i.e., support for slavery). Apparently perplexed by that idea, the student fired back, “Muslims with their headscarves make me uncomfortable…But are we going to ask them to stop wearing them? No, because it's their religion. I still struggle seeing them on campus.”
Allegations of racism at Texas A&M are nothing new. For example: In 1992, an A&M fraternity held a "jungle fever party" in which "slave hunters" chased people dressed in grass skirts and blackface; they were fined $1,000. In 2006, a student pretending to be a slave master whipped with a towel and fake sexually assaulted a student in blackface, to the outrage of the whole university.
Then there are the subtler cases, like the time in 2012 the Texas Aggie Conservatives made a digital recruitment flyer picturing President Barack Obama as a "boy" dressed in baggy clothes, with the words "Think he NEEDS a timeout? Join TAC!" As one student explained it, "As most Americans know, 'boy' has been used constantly throughout American history to deride and classify African-American men as inferior people...The associations inherent in this portrayal are obvious: The president is a black 'street kid' who must be shown his place."
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And then there are the numerous stories that do not go viral like the one last month. Student Kendal Gallimore told The Guardian about the time someone in a passing car yelled to his friend, "Go back to the cotton fields!" and the time a fellow student in his dorm who had a whiteboard on her door came home to find the N-word scrawled across it. To raise awareness about stories like those, A&M students recently started an anti-racism group that's distributing personal testimonials on flyers around campus. In one, a student describes the time a group threw a rock at a minority student while yelling racial taunts. The group plans on holding a silent demonstration on campus today.
“These things happen every day, not just Feb. 9,” one of the students leading the group told the campus newspaper.
That was also made clear when campus police investigating that February 9 incident interviewed a teacher from the Dallas charter school, Uplift Hampton Preparatory, who said she asked a black A&M student if the school had a race problem. She told him what happened, and he seemed immediately familiar with what she was talking about: the type of casual racism that comes from people who may not even understand why it's wrong.
"You're talking about the boneheads at Walton Hall," the student told her. "We always have problems with them. They don't mean any harm."