Accusations shows equity work requires more accountability

We usually reserve the last editorial of the month for our Cheers & Jeers column, but we’re going to bump that column this month to address a more pressing issue.

Last week, for the second time in just four months, a visiting sports team accused Camas students of directing racist slurs toward their players of color.

We know these incidents do not reflect the majority of Camas students. We also know local school district staff and student leaders ramped up efforts to address racism, equity and inclusion inside Camas’ elementary, middle and high schools following a December 2021 accusation by Benson High School basketball players that people sitting in the Camas student section had hurled racial slurs toward the visiting athletes.

We also know that the Camas students accused of making these hateful slurs have, so far, not faced any serious consequences. As the Vancouver baseball coach involved in the latest incident reiterated this week, the Camas School District has shown no move toward holding any individual students accountable for their hateful words or actions toward visiting student-athletes.

“Over the past few days with my interactions with Camas, at times I have not felt comfortable with where the investigation is heading,” Skyview baseball coach Seth Johnson wrote on his personal Twitter page this week. “I feel there needs to be direct accountability for the actions of the individuals involved in the incident.”

Camas School District officials must double-down on their efforts to promote racial justice and equity within Camas schools and must not allow the current investigation to be derailed by the type of ridiculous excuses Johnson pointed out in his social media post — for instance, blaming visiting student-athletes for mistaking “a word that rhymes with the ‘N-word'” for a racial slur Black children living in a majority-white area are far too familiar with and unlikely to mistake for anything other than the hateful word that it is.

While many of the parents and community members who have railed against “critical race theory” and argued during local and national school board meetings that we don’t need to concentrate on things like equity, diversity and inclusion in our classrooms because doing so might pit students against each other based on the color of their skin, it is vividly apparent that young students in majority-white areas like Camas are in desperate need of more lessons about systemic racism and about how to dismantle racism in their own school.

The number of incidents involving racial slurs at high school sporting events has skyrocketed since the 2016 presidential election, which saw the winning candidate base his campaign on hateful rhetoric toward non-white immigrants.

“Racism at school sporting events has long predated the current times, but it seems to have made a roaring, much more open comeback since Donald Trump announced his run for president,” NBC Sports reporter Bob Cook pointed out in a Nov. 24, 2018, column published in Forbes magazine. “And it is shocking to know this happens. But then again, if you’ve been paying attention to the last two years, ever Googled the phrase ‘school sports racist,’ or lived in a country (with a) Constitution (that) codified the ownership of Black human beings for the sake of ‘unity,’ it is not surprising.”

It is up to all of us in the Camas community, particularly white parents of white children, to help ensure visiting students of color will never again be subjected to racial slurs or hateful language.

As Cook put it: “Everybody … has to do more than wring your hands and say, ‘this isn’t who we are,’ or resent ‘outsiders’ trying to smear your ‘good kids’ by trying to make them all ‘politically correct.'”

Camas obviously has a lot of work to do around equity and inclusion. And it’s not just on the sports fields. A recent survey of Liberty Middle School students showed that over 80 students reported hearing racist language in their school hallways at least once a week. Even more students reported hearing anti-LGBTQ language while passing between classes.

We agree with Coach Johnson that Camas School District leaders — as well as Camas parents, coaches, teachers and other influential adults — must do more to ensure Camas children are constantly learning how to be more empathic and more inclusive. But we also believe, like Johnson, that the students behind these alleged racial slurs must also be held accountable.

Without any consequences for their harmful actions, these children are learning a horrible lesson — that they can say or do whatever they want, no matter who it might hurt, and their community will protect them.