Racism at Hopkins High

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Hopkins High School is one of the top public schools in Minnesota, which prides itself, though not always with justification, as having excellent public schools. Hopkins is in an “outer ring” suburb of the Twin Cities. This is a set of bedroom communities developed over the last several decades as well-to-do city folk moved out of the urban core, and American immigrants from the coasts and elsewhere moved to the Twin Cities during periods of economic prosperity and growth. These suburbs and their schools are relatively white and relatively privileged. We see racist things in these places from time to time.

Back in February, the ski team had an away trip, over Presidents’ Day weekend. The students took the initiative to incorporate a theme in their dress on the trip. They would wear “ghetto” or as some called it “rapper” attire. These were mainly white students doing a parody of African American urban culture. A couple of African American students learned of this on the day the students were to leave, and by midday had lodged a complaint with the administration, indicating that they felt that this was a racist and disrespectful making fun of the very small minority of black students in the school. The ski trip students were allowed to continue with their dress up game, and the school later claimed (despite evidence to the contrary) that they learned of this problem too late to do anything about it. Apparently, an organized act of racism was not considered a reason to either delay departure to give the privileged white students time to change their clothes. Apparently, an organized act of racism was not considered reason to cancel the trip and sit down with the students for some sensitivity training, or for that matter, to discipline them.

Two of the African American students in the school decided to protest the event. They produced posters, which I’ve not seen, and placed them on wall space within the school. The administration immediately took these posters down, claiming (probably correctly) that students are not allowed to put things on walls without the administration approving the materials. After the posters were taken down, the African American protesting students went to an assistant principal’s office to get the posters back, and the assistant principal did exactly what one would expect one would do in a Twin Cities mainly white suburb when the angry black people show up: The police were called in. All Twin Cities schools have police officers on hand (just like the NRA has been suggesting for everybody).

According to the police one of the African American students placed his hand on the chest of the police officer to move around him while trying to carry the posters out of the office. According the students, there was no putting of hands on any police officers.

The two students were arrested, charged, expelled for three days and fined.

Later, the white ski trip students sat with the African American students and the school’s administration. The white students expressed regret for their racist act and said they were sorry. They were sent off with the appreciation of the administration for their brief moment of contrition. The African American students were sent off with a police record. Zero tolerance for civil disobedience in protest of racism. Full tolerance for actual racism.

Way to go, Hopkins High.

UPDATE: I’ve noticed that some inter-mural sporting events, including skiing, have rules about racist and sexist behavior. It seems as though this may have been a violation of such rules. One wonders why the school allowed a sports team to go to a meet while clearly violating a rule like this, if this is the case. If the students “needed” to dress in their racialized costumes because they had nothing else to wear, a reasonable though unpleasant decision on the part of the administration would then have been to simply cancel the trip.

The story was discussed today on Minnesota Public Radio. Photo from HopkinsPatch

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16 thoughts on “Racism at Hopkins High

  1. Racism this may be, but you’ve not made a convincing case. with what you’ve written here. Put in more evidence of racism from the students if you want to be convincing. As written, the post seemed to make a number of pretty ridiculous assumptions about what “the rules” apparently are for people having parties. Are parties with a ghetto/rap theme now forbotten? Rap music is a massive part of popular culture, why shouldn’t it inspire parties? Would a country western-themed party be equally bad? How about a punk-themed party? Just like rap parties, these combine (a) music with (b) silly costumes, which is half a party right there. Or is it just that the party is only banned if your race is different than whatever race is stereotypically associated with the music? Just looking for the rules here.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    I didn’t mention it specifically in the post, but the MPR piece does: The African American students felt that the members of the ski team (which was all white, I think) were doing a modern version of “black face.” And yes, a “party” with a black face theme should not be allowed by a high school in the 21st century.

    Also, this was not a party. But that shouldn’t matter.

    A key point here which you have missed is that some white students did something that African American students took valid offense at (you don’t get to say that this was inoffensive … that itself would be rather offensive) and by the time the story played out, the black students got themselves a police record.

    Also, note that the ski team students admitted that what they did was wrong, contra your suggestions that racially offensive dress is just fine.

  3. If the picture of the team shows them in rapper attire, I suppose I have not been paying attention, as I would not have noticed it. However, the treatment of the black protesting students does sound adequately racist to support your thesis.

  4. I’d like to know more about the rules of conduct for these sporting events. This could be a clear cut case of two groups of students doing something wrong (a prohibited racist act and a bit of civil disobedience) and the black kids getting in trouble for it.

  5. I can certainly imagine the students might not have realized they had crossed a line. Musical and cultural things are parodied all the time. I can also imagine that when confronted about something that you thought was OK and done in good faith, that your first reaction is usually to be indignant and double down. Its easy to imagine hard feelings developing on both sides.

    It seems a chance to educate was missed here. Those who have not been discriminated against can’t really imagine what its like (-especially what its like if it happens repeatedly), and think the minority is being unreasonable and oversensitive. The way to overcome this is to let them be presented with material which puts them in the minorities skin, so they can come to have at least some grasp of what they’ve been through.

  6. Robert,

    Considering that your piece appears on a site called “science” blogs, I would have expected your analysis of these events to contain far more evidence, as opposed to the abundance of speculation and confirmatory bias you insert whenever you don’t have actual facts to support your assertions.

    But since I’m not a contributor to science blogs, I think I am allowed a wider berth for speculation and assumption. I am assuming that the only information you have that you think justifies your derision and commentary on the people involved was through the MPR piece, or from another blog, maybe from the CityPages, just guessing. I’m guessing you weren’t there. I’m guessing that you haven’t spoken to the administration, the offended students, the ski team, so you don’t fully know what happened, why, for what reasons, or under what circumstances. I am assuming that you weren’t there when the events took place, that you weren’t in the administrator’s office….OK you get my point. The MPR piece was fairly even-handed and stuck to the gathered facts with some journalistic integrity. The problem with blogs is that they can apparently be written by anyone whether or not they possess journalistic ethics, and the only requirement appears to be an IP address and a strong opinion.

    So, my opinion, since I also have an IP address. The white students were wrong to have conducted themselves in the manner they did. There was apparently very little awareness and sensitivity applied to their decision. Also, the African American students have a right to be unhappy and offended, and I can understand why they felt the way they did.

    But let me point out some problems I have with your assertions….you say that the students were engaged in a “parody of African American urban culture.” Really? You must get your ideas about what African American urban culture is from the same media outlets that these youngsters have access to. Do you visit “urban African Americans” and frequently survey the abundance of do-rags, joints behind the ear, stomach tattoos, etc. When I visit urban African American culture, I see kids walking home from school with their backpacks, moms bringing groceries home to their kids……and I talk to black people that would love to take a few moments of your time to help you realize that the elements associated with the media image of the inner-city gangsta rapper media image that WHITE ADULTS have shoved in the faces of young kids across the nation….in NO WAY is representative of their resilient and proud culture. The ganster rapper has roots in black street culture, to be sure, but it has been amplified and distorted into an iconic media image, and a caricature that exists outside of “African American culture.” So when it comes time to play “dress-up” as CHILDREN do, are they racist because they channel back an image that has been burned into their psyche across their lifetime. Were they “making fun” of BLACK PEOPLE? Were they parodying AFRICAN AMERICANS? Hip-hop music is unanimous with youth culture across racial and ethnic boundaries, did whitey finally find a legitimate chance to publicly dress like their rap heroes? I don’t know, maybe there was some latent negative intent, but, that’s salient point, I don’t know, and neither do you.

    Regardless, they are youth, they’re learning to navigate the complex world they are inheriting, its past, its horrors, its politics, and they are ignorant until taught otherwise. If we are going to make progress regarding racial equality, EACH and EVERY generation has to become educated, and I think these kids were held accountable for their ignorant actions, and it sounds like they were appropriately contrite, and hopefully learned something from their crash course in cultural sensitivity.

    To suggest that they should have been punished for their ignorance, for their youth, for their failure to fully understand the implications of their actions within the context of history, is really inappropriate. Where is the consistency of your logic, when you suggest that the white kids ignorant actions should have been punished, but when black kids push a police officer, it is some kind of noble act of civil disobedience.

    The black students should protest, they should express themselves, they should bring attention to the matter, and they should be heard. It was a learning opportunity for both sides, and it sounds like that’s the way the school handled it, but when you put your hands on police officers and push them out of your way….white or black, we’re going to have to expect to be held accountable for that kind of civil disobedience.

    I have more to say, but this is getting too long already. But I will challenge you to explore your motivations for generating this article. The way you drench the facts with your biases and opinions about what may have occurred and why says far more about you, and far less about what really happened regarding this incident. Is your white guilt that unmanageable? How many black people have you invited into your house this….decade? How in touch are you with the “urban culture” you talk about, with youth, with the issues that present themselves in contemporary high schools. If you want to jump up on a box and scream “I AM NOT A RACIST, AND THIS PROVES IT” then you go with your bad white guilt self. But don’t distort events, trash schools, trash “racist white suburbs” just so you can pat yourself on the back and feel like you’re doing something to support the African American community. Peace out, homeboy.

  7. All I have to say is this, being an alumni from Hopkins all should know one thing. Almost every athletic team does their themed “spirit” wear before events to spread awareness and gather support from their friends. This is the first time I am aware the theme of “rapper” has become racist.

    Also, the school isn’t primarily white anymore it’s been shifted to primarily minorities. For your own credibility, do your research first before publishing a terribly one sided story.

    Lastly, the police arrested them because the black students have a history of bringing knives to school and other weapons.

  8. Greg,

    Sorry I got your name wrong last time….The article you cite provides several reasonably conceived trends that are believed to be associated with the drop in enrollment, and not once is “white flight” mentioned as a reason for this. So when you say “the general perception is” I think you should be more honest and say “my hastily formed opinion based on a great deal of speculation is…”.

    I don’t mean to pick on you, but media outlets, including mainstream sources, blogs, etc., are really quick to make judgements and capitalize on these types of stories. When truth become distorted and then amplified, it only deepens divisions and hurts everyone involved. But in the heat of the moment, journalists of all stripes can’t wait to be the first to sink their teeth into a juicy story that they believe will play well to their audience, and it seems that even-handed reporting quickly goes out the window in favor of sensationalism, clicks, likes, ad revenue, donations, stature, or whatever the currency.

    There’s something to this story in all fairness, but to act as judge, jury and executioner with only a handful of facts isn’t responsible reporting and could unnecessarily fan the flames of distrust in an entire community and do far more harm than good. I urge you to be more cautious and consider the implications and consequences your words can carry in the real world. You could end up harming the people you intend to defend.

    Who are the administrative staff at Hopkins, are they white, black? I know they had a black principal a couple of years ago. I think it would make your story sound even a little crazier if it turned out the administrator was black.

    Just please, be fair, it matters to real people.

  9. You can tell me until you are blue in the face that I’m being unfair but the situation at Hopkins is real. Also, it is not unique to Hopkins, by the way. I believe the current principal is African American, but somehow that did not prevent the all white ski team from doing what many African American students justifiably viewed as a blackface comedy routine.

    Yes, fairness is important.

  10. What’s not fair is that people of color make up 60% of our prison population, and one in three black males will spend some time in prison during their lifetimes, as compared to 1 in 100 Americans over all. Additionally, students of color face harsher penalties in school than white students. By burdening these African American students with police records Hopkins has increased the likelihood that any future interactions with the law enforcement system will go just that much worse for them, almost a guarantee that jail or prison looms in their future.
    Meanwhile the white students will remember a weekend ski trip… ruined!

  11. Yes, Greg,

    I agree with you on the point that what the ski team did was wrong, but the honest story isn’t that Hopkins High School and the suburb that feeds it is a hotbed of bigotry. The even-handed thoughtful story is about how we need to continue to educate each successive generation regarding the history and legacy of slavery and racism in this country and in the broader world, and if we don’t, ignorance will prevail anywhere that it is untended. A responsible and productive conversation would center around ways in which this can systematically occur so we don’t continue to repeat these types of incidents that resurrect and confirm fears, suspicions and deepen divisions within our communities, and so we can continue to more fully realize our ideals about equality and justice.

    This is a story about what can happen when we don’t continue the work set out by brave leaders of the past, and how quickly things can unravel, because racism isn’t uniquely black and white, and it’s not uniquely American, and it’s not uniquely 21st century.

    So all I’m saying is you had a chance for a great, honest, compelling story that could have served as a call to action and earnest reflection, but all you wrote was a sensational piece that only heaps criticism upon a school for their attempts to respond to our broader society’s failure to educate and to mend the rifts and divisions that have been created as a result of our shameful history.

    Finger pointing is easy, blaming is effortless, the ability to understand and to report something true and meaningful is perhaps too idealistic in the knee-jerk-get-there-first climate of the internet media climate. This is the last I’ll speak on this topic, thank you for your civil responses and for providing me with an opportunity to dialog about an issue that I feel passionate about.



  12. Robert, thank you very much for your concern about what topics and subtopics I chose to write about and how I approach them. I will take them under advisement.

  13. Whether any of us think dressing up as “rappers” is racist or not seems a little bit beside the point. The few African American students were offended. I’m not really sure why anyone is trying to apologize for the other students, and especially the administration for clearly choosing to disregard the concerns of the offended students so that the silly ignorant white kids could go on making fools of themselves and objects of their classmates (I can’t know the offended students’ exact reasons for complaining, but it seems safe to assume that it had something to do with feeling objectified, or feeling so by racial association). Racism often expresses itself in nuance, and often not on purpose. There could have been minor things said, worn, done that drew the “rapper” image being emulated into specifically racial territory. Regardless, the administration’s behavior seems totally irresponsible, and way too in line with broader national trends in the differing treatments of students based upon race to simply be written off. Of course there is more involved. Of course he could have probably written a boom about it. I would bet the conclusions would amount to something similar to what was expressed in this shorter version.

  14. Greg this was an extremely disrespectful and unintelligent story regarding the school of which I am an alumni if. Hopkins is extremely diverse especially when compared to some surrounding high schools. This was not racist whatsoever stop trying to make a story where there isn’t one. Our freaking principal is black and he is completely anti-racism..

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