When leaders of Alabama’s Russell County/ Phenix City NAACP received a tip about a video of local students chanting racist lyrics, including the phrase “to hell with the NAACP,” it didn’t go over very well.
“We are here to serve notice that this type of behavior will not be tolerated,” local NAACP president Rev. Alfonza Seldon said at a press conference in front of the Phenix City School District last month.
“A lot of the things we see on the national news today, the hate crimes, the killings … it derives, I believe, from things such as this not being immediately addressed,” he said.
Seldon told the Ledger-Enquirer and other media outlets that he received a copy of the shaky 32-second video from a source who he wouldn’t revel. He contends it was circulated among students on the messaging app Snapchat, and he immediately reported it to school officials.
“The Phenix City/Russell County NAACP has been made aware of a racist video on the social media site Snapchat. The site showed five or six teenage white males spelling out the word N.I.G.G.E.R. then shouting this word out followed by a chant/song that included: ‘… to hell with the NAACP,’” the group wrote in a prepared statement to WRBL.
School officials identified five of the males in the video as students at Central High School or Central Freshman Academy, and WRBL also identified at least one as a student athlete on the baseball team.
Seldon said the NAACP wants the students to face a “multi-tiered discipline approach that includes measures beyond suspensions,” including “sensitivity and diversity (training) for all students, faculty and staff, as well as made available to parents, community stakeholders and also representatives of the NAACP.”
Phenix City Schools superintendent Randy Wilkes told the Ledger-Enquirer that while the video is “terribly offensive,” and “not something that we can tolerate within our school system,” it’s not something he can punish students for because the video was recorded off campus.
Other than the fact that the teens are students in Phenix City Schools, he said, the incident “appears to have no affiliation with our school system.”
Wilkes said he met with the parents of the students involved, and is “working with the parents individually on” extra sensitivity training for their children, though he noted that the district already conducts sensitivity training as part of its character education program.
The incident is one example of local school and community leaders working to address racism and promote tolerance, understanding, respect, and good citizenship.
Sociologist James Davison Hunter, founder of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, highlights the importance of the unified message against racism and intolerance as part of effective moral education in his book “The Tragedy of Moral Education in America.”
Moral education can work where the community, and schools and other institutions within it, share a moral culture that is integrated and mutually reinforcing; where the social networks of adult authority are strong, unified, and consistent in articulating moral ideas and their attending virtues; and where adults maintain a ‘caring watchfulness’ over all aspects of a young person’s maturation.
These are environments where intellectual and moral virtues are not only naturally interwoven in the distinctive moral ethos, but embedded within the structure of communities.
Educators can challenge students to behave respectfully by providing examples of people who have courageously resisted their peers when they face pressure to discriminate against others. A lesson about civil rights activist Rosa Parks from the Jubilee Centre offers an excellent example that could be adapted for all ages.