By Austin Kaus
Wednesday, six white high school students arrived at school wearing the shirts, which also bore a peace sign and the word “Peace” on the front.
It was the backside of the shirts, however, that caused administrators to intervene. On the back of the shirts was a symbol consisting of a plus sign in a circle—often referred to as a sun cross or Odin’s cross—and the words “White Pride World Wide.” The word “cracker,” a derogatory slang term for impoverished white people, was also written on the back of each shirt.
Mitchell said the word “cracker” and the symbol, commonly used by white supremacists, violated the school’s dress code by promoting racial slurs. The students were asked to remove or change their shirts or be sent home. While two changed their shirts, the remaining four left school with parental notification.
“We were trying to make a point to the school,” Novotny said. “They’re allowed to wear (Native Pride clothing) in school.”
The adviser for the Native American Club declined to comment Wednesday.
Novotny admitted that she can understand why the word “cracker” could be against school policy. Still, she believes that clothing proclaiming “white pride” should be acceptable.
This led to the following debate on Facebook:
Kevin Abourezk: Bullshit. Native Pride means just that, pride. White Pride = White Supremacy.
Jody Staples: I agree completely Kevin. The reason they did it was negatively motivated. The whole idea of it was intended to be offensive.
Dalton Walker: Here is one comment that I agree with. Taken from the Argus Leader update on the story.
Whites destroyed the native people of North and South America.
Those enslaved and destroyed were told, for generations, that black and brown are bad, white is good.
When people of color reclaim it with pride, it shows they are casting off shackles.
When whites advertise their pride, the individual might think it is equivalent. But it is not. It's racist.
That's all there is to it.
Dalton Walker: Besides, when did the majority of this country become the voiceless? "White pride." Seriously? Look around, who are the CEOs? Come on now.
Andrew Nelson: What does "Native Pride" or "Black Pride" mean? It's not up to me to decide, but I interpret it to mean: "I'm proud of the accomplishments of my race and our contribution to American culture that the majority of my fellow citizens don't recognize."
What does "White Pride" mean? It seems to mean, "I don't feel good about myself, so I need to take pride in something, so I feel proud about my race."
First one? Totally understandable. Second one? Something is wrong with the person wearing the shirt, and they need to think about why they feel the way they do.
I understand and agree that "White Pride" has a drastically different meaning than "Black Pride" or "Native Pride." But really, are we going to get into the hidden interpretation or intent of words that are superficially the same. That smacks of mind-reading. It also smacks of an unconstitutional discrimination between "good" and "bad" speech.
Let's try a few hypotheticals:
1) White and Native students wear identical shirts saying "Redskins." Natives say they're trying to reclaim the word and instill Native pride. Whites say they're making a point about Natives.
2) White and Native students wear identical shirts saying "Washington Redskins" and sporting the team's logo.
3) White and Native students wear identical shirts showing an offensive caricature of an Indian. Natives say the caricature is "cool" or "funny." Whites say it "honors Indians."
4) White and black students wear identical shirts saying "Niggers." Blacks say they're trying to reclaim the word and instill black pride. Whites say they're making a point about blacks.
Which of these shirts should the school ban and why?
Forget the word "Pride" and its historical implications. What if Natives wore shirts saying "Native" or "Indian" or "Red" and whites wore shirts saying "White"? Wouldn't these shirts convey the same message of racial pride? Would anyone say Natives could wear "Native" shirts but whites couldn't wear "White" shirts?
Some shirts better than others?
It's certainly illegal to discriminate on the basis on race. I think you'd have a hard time making the case that it's legal to ban "White Pride" but not "Native Pride" shirts. Regardless of the phrases' different origins and meanings, banning one shirt but not the other would be discrimination on the basis of race.
We could play all sorts of games with these hypotheticals. How about a t-shirt that says "Jesus Saves"? How about if it says "Jesus Saves Homosexuals"? Or "Jesus Saves Indians"? Are all these okay, or not?
Obviously, I think a school policy has to be consistent enough to allow or disallow all these shirts. The school can't decide which racial or religious messages are okay and which aren't. It can't make minute distinctions based on intangible criteria such as someone's unknown intent.
I think most schools err on the side of banning all messages. I might err on the side of allowing all messages. As long as they're not clearcut slurs or profanities, that is.
Is it better for students to keep their prejudices to themselves or to express them openly? Would expressing them create a climate of intimidation, or would it lead to learning opportunities? I don't know.
I hope social scientists have studied this issue. I'd go with whichever way instills healthier attitudes in the long run, even if it causes short-term pain. If the shirts lead to a frank discussion of racism and stereotyping, they could be good. Kids need to learn about these things as well as math and English.
For more on the subject, see No Pride in Native Pride T-Shirts and 1492 Shirt Is Negative?