Once Again, The Unwarranted Presumption Of Racism

“What’s that kid doing up there?”

If something undesirable happens to an African American, the culture is pushing the norm that the misfortune ought to be presumed to be the result of racism until decisively proven otherwise. Similarly, if a white individual is responsible for a black citizen’s plight, deserved or not, the white individual’s motivations are also presumed to be based on racial animus.

Both presumptions are nothing less than sanctified bias and prejudice, as much so as racism itself.

A case study from Washington, D.C.:

About a hundred seventh and eighth-grade students from Shelton Intermediate School in Shelton, Connecticut were visiting the nation’s Capital last week. The group was supervised by twelve chaperones, and the itinerary included the usual museums, monuments and landmarks, including the newest attraction, the Smithsonian’s  African American Museum.

While touring the museum, a male student leaned over a balcony and drooled or spit down on the visitors below. His saliva struck one of them, and the victim was black.  As a result of the incident, the entire group was ejected from the museum.

Now the incident is being exploited by the NAACP as a overt racist act. Greg Johnson, president of the Ansonia Valley NAACP, said the location of the incident alone is evidence that the incident was not a neutral act of childish behavior, but racism.

“He didn’t spit on anyone at the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial,” Johnson said in an interview yesterday. “[It was] a total and complete lack of respect and one of the most degrading acts one can commit against another. It’s an embarrassment not only to Shelton, but to Connecticut,” Johnson said.

Boys have been spitting over balconies down onto unsuspecting bystanders as long as there have been balconies. I’ve been hit on the head by such ambush loogees, both as a kid and an adult. I’ve seen boys do it. I’ve known boys who did it (and who are now respected members of society.  I bet even black kids do it.

Yes, it’s an asshole thing to do, which is essentially the point. In addition to seldom  involving personal animus, the fact is that such spit-bombs don’t have guidance systems. Usually the spittee has only a general idea whom or what  his spit will land on.

Johnson’s effort to turn routine childish horseplay into a racial cause is transparent demagoguery and race-baiting. How does he know the boy didn’t spit on anyone at the Washington Monument or the Lincoln Memorial, or engage in some other disrespectful behavior? He doesn’t. As I read Johnson’s remarks, he seems to be saying that any inappropriate behavior in the African American Museum is evidence of racism.

If the kid spit over a balcony at the Air and Space Museum, I guess that would prove he was a Luddite.

“The incident at the African American Museum involved a student spitting over a balcony,” Dina Marks, the school’s principal, tweeted. “It allegedly hit a visitor, a person of color. It was an act of stupidity, disinterest, & immaturity, completely inappropriate, but I believe, not racially motivated against that person.”

Well, of course.  But the theory Marks is trying to rebut holds that if the student’s spit hit a white visitor, then it was just an act of stupidity, but if it hit a black one, it must have been motivated by racism. Presumably if the white visitor struck by drool were gay, or transgender, then anti-LGBTQ bigotry inspired the episode. We’re talking hate-spit here.

I wonder: if the students were touring Harvard, and one spit over a balcony and hit an Asian-American…never mind, I don’t have the energy to think about it.

Verdicts:

  • The museum over-reacted by kicking a hundred students out because of one student’s act.
  • Johnson and the local NAACP chapter are choosing to stigmatize and exploit a child for cheap political capital. Shame on them.
  • The boy who caused all this should be punished, but the severity of the punishment should not be based on the ridiculously excessive and hysterical aftermath.
  • The presumption of racism is divisive, destructive, cynical, and wrong.

19 thoughts on “Once Again, The Unwarranted Presumption Of Racism

  1. The staff at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum have reported that this is frequent behavior during school field trips since it opened. Not anti-semitism, just jerkism.

  2. The museum’s response was not inappropriate, and is proportionate to how other institutions have reacted since time immortal. My middle school class was particularly rambunctious, and a similar minor incident (I have no memory of what) got our school kicked out of future field trips to that location.

    During my senior class trip to DC, that incident was impressed upon us to remind us us that a repeat of that incident could jeopardize the trip in the future (which had been an annual tradition since the building opened in the 60s).

    Kicking out the entire group is mostly a function of logistics. If the boys who were spitting had to be removed, then a chaperone would have to be diverted to supervise them. This would ripple through the group, and make tracking everyone slightly more difficult. Most schools would voluntarily leave in the or move up their departure time response to such a disruption.

    Even if ejection for the spitting itself were excessive, any sort of confrontation afterwards, even an unjustified overreaction by the spittee, would justify the museum’s action. However, the consequence of the school going back to the hotel early should have been the end of the story, to the satisfaction of all involved. National headlines and accusations of racism are absurd.

    • But there weren’t spitters, just one. This is an “everybody does it” argument. To make all of the students suffer for one student’s misconduct is per se unfair. I have been on a couple of student outings where a student became ill. One chaperone took the student out of the locale. Why would this situation be any different?

  3. There is indeed too much of a tendency to jump to conclusions when we first hear of an incident. The news media shares a role in promoting this kind of reaction. Many of the headlines about the incident at the African American Museum say a white student spit on a black person. That phrasing makes it sound racist.
    The principal said in a tweet that the incident did not appear to be racist. I could not find her Twitter account nor the tweet, but I did see a lot of responses to that apparent tweet, hostile and otherwise, some pointing out that this is not the first incident involving that school, only the first to make national news.
    The superintendent of schools said, “But this is now, regrettably, a pattern of behavior that is disrespectful and does not serve anyone well ….”
    That told me there is more to the story, and so I searched further, and found reports from last month that the school is investigating a blackface incident. In that incident, a student apparently posted a blackface picture on Snapchat and labeled it “New n**** in town.”
    And, about nine months ago, an assistant football coach there resigned after it was revealed that he had made a racist and sexist comment on Facebook.
    So, looking at the verdicts:
    The museum over-reacted: Sure seems like it, but there may be more to that story, too.
    Johnson and the local NAACP chapter are choosing to stigmatize and exploit a child for cheap political capital: Well, they’re certainly jumping on this case before all the facts are in.
    The boy should be punished: Agreed, not sure yet what the actual specifications of the ‘crime’ will be, and, therefore, I cannot determine an appropriate punishment. I presume the school principal will interview the kid and those who were around him at the time.
    The presumption of racism is divisive, destructive, cynical and wrong: Agreed. It is of a kind with other presumptions of evil behavior without the facts to back it up. We are seeing a lot of that, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.

    • But how can you separate proto klansmen from jerks? Kids will always do stupid stuff on field trips to so many reasons. Mostly just because they are kids and have poor judgment. Middle school, how can they hound a kid for spittle, when there’s the question about that trailer fire not getting charged for murder? And really, what does that mean about all the spittle produced by progressive protestors?

      You aren’t going to stop racial bias on blacks by over punishing a jerk’s acts, you’re going to cement in the other 99 that blacks hate white kids so much for stupid shit, that they would raise the furies, Go after real life and death issues, not spittle,

    • I made the decision to ignore the other incidents. There were two, and none of them should influence how the current situation is assessed. What one kid does in a school has no relevance to what another kid does, unless there’s an evident connection.

      At some point, and you are approaching it, “There may be more to the story” becomes an excuse to shrug off everything and anything. Kid spit off balcony. Spit hit black visitor. Visitor complained. Group kicked out. Race-baiters pounced. I don’t see why any untold facts are necessarily relevant. The kid belonged to the junior Klan? He won a ribbon once for precision spitting? he said, “Hey, watch me drool on this black lady, who I regard as an inferior human being”?

      Thanks for mentioning the misleading headlines. I was going to mention that, but didn’t.

      • I agree that seeking more information can be a way of avoiding a decision. I was trying to see this through Johnson’s eyes. I should have zeroed in more on what he actually said, specifically that the location made it a racist incident. That logic plainly is wrong. We should and do expect better behavior from kids in certain locales and that museum is one of those places, but they still are kids. By coincidence, I ended up in the midst of a high school field trip in the Rosa Parks museum in Montgomery a couple of months ago. The kids were generally respectful, but not all of them all of the time, yet I would not consider their behavior racist (nor sexist, for that matter) simply because it was the Rosa Parks Museum.

    • And, in the hoax surrounding white sixth-graders cutting the dreadlocks of a black girl, the races were prominently mentioned, too.

      Further, in stories like the one below, in which race could not have been a factor, the races are mentioned in the first sentence as if they were relevant:

      https://www.wsbtv.com/news/trending-now/texas-police-officer-fatally-shoots-woman-inside-her-own-home-investigators-say/996787040?fbclid=IwAR3ASQoNy96bSSOuqTwDpCaSOnfiD9hqvjcFXqmoZ6scR1vy9UXJIDWHDfg

      There’s no evidence in this case that the woman was shot because she was black. This is a clear case of poor training.

  4. In June 1967, while working for a living (delivering the Milwaukee Journal) and bettering myself through education (summer break before 7th grade at James Madison Memorial) our 9 member family took an extremely rare out-of-state trip.

    We visited the Jefferson Davis Monument, from up top I…um…hurled a loogey; neither the 1st, nor the last, perch from which one was so lobbed.

    Anywho, from all indications no one was in the impact zone below at the time, and surely the expectorate dissipated well before it made landfall; so mercifully, others in my group were not required to suffer due to my unconscionable breach of decorum.

    Jefferson Davis & all, I’m damn near twice outside the Paula Deen 27 Year Look-Back Window; that good enough…?

    • Yes.

      And this is propaganda. Had the ‘victim’ been a white male, or the location the Aerospace Museum, I wonder if the class would have asked to leave? Let alone made the national news.

  5. Am I to presume that spitting from the balcony is unheard of at the Smithsonian’s Caucasian American Museum? Oh, wait…never mind.

  6. No unethical museum stories here, but when I was stationed at Fort Knox from late 2009-mid 2010, a few of us visited Mohammad Ali’s museum in Louisville one weekend. There was a huge crowd densely packed slowly meandering through the museum. So we edged our way into the middle of the crowd to see the commotion. One of the guys jokingly quipped “that dude looks like Mohammad Ali touring his own museum” as another one of us said “guys…that IS Mohammad Ali…touring his own museum”. He was there with what looked like family and clearly a large group of fans.

    One thing we couldn’t figure out, if it was attributable to his increasingly debilitating Parkinson’s or to his perpetual jester mind, but when he watched a tv screen of one of his more iconic fights, he quipped “man, who is that young man? That boxer sure is good!”.

    I’d like to think it was his perennially teasing persona.

    • Oh, also amusing: one of the exhibits at the museum was a punching bag with a pneumatic piston behind it. The idea being you held the punching bag and the piston hit the other side. The exhibit was labelled something like “feel what it was like to be hit by Ali”.

      There was a HUGE sign in front of the exhibit stating something to the effect of “Exhibit closed until further notice”.

      HA!

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