Racism not okay

December 14, 2011

Political Theory


During the weekend before finals I decided to take break from my studies to relax and watch television for a few minutes.  As I was flipping though the channels an interesting story popped up on CNN so I decided to watch it.  According to the news reports over a dozen female basketball players at a western New York High School were suspended for chanting racial slurs in their warm-up routine.  This racist chant was a tradition for this basketball team.  It had been done for years and only became known to the public when an African American girl on the team, Tyra Batts, started to brawl a fellow teammate for the use of the highly offensive racial slur “n-word.”  I started to think of John Stuart Mill’s philosophies, and if he would agree with the schools decision to suspend the girls.  After a few minutes of contemplation, I decided that John Stuart Mill would agree with the schools actions.  In most case scenarios Mill would argue in favor of a person or a group of people being allowed to speak freely and openly.   However, in this situation where the girls basketball team was chanting racial slurs, Mills would argue the opposite.  Furthermore, he would argue that while freedom of thought is absolute, there should be restrictions of this freedom when speech is hurtful and demeaning.  Expressions of opinion and feeling can largely affect others and therefore may also harm them.  Even if the girls were not trying to cause harm to others, they did regardless of what their intentions were.   Racism is wrong, extremely offensive, and should not be tolerated on any level. Since the girl’s actions caused emotional harm to others (Tyra Batts and the entire African-American community), Mill would uphold the  actions taken by the School Board.

racism is never right

The Kenmore-Town of Towanda school district, the High School where these events occurred, launched an investigation against these girls.  The Board of Directors found the basketball players guilty of violating the schools conduct code and extra curricular athletic code.  Therefore, the principal of the High School made the executive decision to not only suspend the girls from school for two days, but also forced them to attend cultural sensitivity training sessions and miss a game of their basketball season.  He was most likely trying to make an example out of these girls to show that racism is not tolerated.  Racism is hateful and ugly; it only causes emotional harm to others and hampers the overall progression of society.  Finally, Mill stated “ opinions lose their immunity, when the circumstances are such as to constitute their expression a positive instigation to some mischievous act.”  Essentially he was saying that opinions lose their value and freedom if they lead to ill-behaved actions.  This is exactly what happened in the case of the girls chanting racial slurs.  It led to outright violence and retaliation by Batts in response to the hateful and abusive remarks by her teammates.  This entire situation could have been completely avoided if the girls had not expressed their racist chant.  It did absolutely nothing to better them and only hurt others.  Overall, the girl’s basketball team should not be allowed to continue their traditional chants no matter what the circumstances are.

don't hate

So I ask you, did the punishment fit the crime?  Should the girls have been subject to a more severe punishment or one that is less harsh?

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2 Comments on “Racism not okay”

  1. chkeeler Says:

    Being raised in southern North Carolina, I experienced/witnessed a great deal of racism and prejudice. My high school’s mascot was Johnny Rebel himself, a leader of the Confederate army during the American civil war. Good Ole Boys drove pickup trucks with Confederate flags sticking out their windows. There was a good bit or racial tension within my school as well. Black people sat together at lunch while white people stuck together. At sporting events, you would often hear racial slurs by some of our fans towards our opponents, even though we had several talented black kids on our own team! I could not understand how people could be so outwardly biased, but it was something deep rooted in this community.
    I fell that the crime these girls received was just. Yes freedom of expression should be allowed, but only if it doesn’t blatantly offend another group of people. Saying the “n” word represents a time in society when black people were treated like dogs, and it should be eradicated from our society completely. I wish people from my school would have gotten punished for saying such hurtful words in the stands during sporting events. If we can create a culture that is completely intolerant of racial prejudice, we will create a more harmonious living environment.

  2. Obada Ghabra Says:

    I don’t think that Mill necessarily tackles this issue directly. Mill discusses how the government should allow as much freedom of speech as possible. In this case, the freedom of speech is being spoken about in the context of a high school in which the issue becomes more nuanced. There are many things that one is allowed to say outside of school which are forbidden to say in high school.

    This example works perfectly. As far as I know, there is no legal penalty for using the N word. It is certainly reprehensible, but the government cannot limit your speech in that way. I think that Mill would agree with this policy. I do not think he would want the government to limit speech, even if it is hate speech. Mill may criticize the speech, but I do not think he would want it limited.

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