Monday, March 19, 2012

Follow up on the bathroom writing...

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I wrote to Brainerd High School. Here is what I originally wrote:

To Whom It May Concern,

This past weekend, the National Guard held a Family Readiness Training Academy for families of soldiers about to return from overseas. My husband, a soldier in the National Guard, was there as a part of this training. While there, he called me and told me that there were not one, but two swastikas drawn inside the bathroom stall near the teachers' lounge. He also noticed a third swastika drawn on a flyer outside of the teachers' lounge, advertising a blood drive. In addition to the symbols, there was also racist language written on the bathroom stalls.

I am writing to encourage you to do something about the hate symbols and words on your bathroom walls and posted flyers. Not only are they completely inappropriate, but I feel that if you plan on hosting family and community events where there will be children, you make efforts to clear your school of hateful speech.

I am aware that the markings are probably that of a student at your school, someone who is not yet mature enough to realize how detrimental perpetuating these kinds of beliefs are. But what I would like to see is a school who will be proactive about not only taking these messages down, but educating the students that this behavior is not acceptable.

I know it's very easy for me to sit here and criticize you and your school. I do not know how you handle these issues, you may very well educate your students on these matters, and if you do, then I commend you. I understand it's difficult to monitor each and every thing written anywhere in the school by students. But I am emphatically asking you to take down what is currently on the walls of your school so as to show that as a community, you do not condone that kind of behavior.


Shannon Watson

And this is what the principal wrote back:

Dear Ms. Watson,

Good morning. My name is Andrea Rusk and I am the principal of Brainerd High School. I apologize for not responding to your email earlier as my secretary was out of the office last week and just forwarded your email to me.

Thank you for emailing our school in regards to the symbols found in a restroom and a flyer in our building. We respond immediately to these types of reports and will do a better job of monitoring our spaces for these types of hate symbols. You are correct; some of our students are very immature and do not realize the hateful behavior this has on our other students and community.

I have contacted our administration and our custodial staff to respond immediately to your email.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact our school in regards to this.


Andrea Rusk
Brainerd High School

I then wrote her back, thanking her for her response, and letting her know I'm finding the same kinds of stuff on the bathroom walls at my college, and will be working with our counseling department to take care of that. I just wanted to give an update and say that sharing your voice can work!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

First World Problems

I've been doing A LOT of thinking about my future lately. Okay, so maybe it's not thinking... maybe it's more... worrying. Yes, worrying seems to be the appropriate word. I feel like that's all I do. Worry about how we'll pay rent. How will we be able to afford to keep living? Will we have to move? What if David doesn't find a job? What if my stuff here at work falls through? And of course, what about my precious kittens!? Their birthday's coming up, and momma needs to make them a kitty cat food cake...

And then I remember. I remember that I'm doing all this worrying while watching Teen Mom 2 on my DVR, on our flat screen. That I'm texting David about "if he's heard on that job yet" from my smart phone. That I worry about paying for the gas going in my 2010 Mazda 3, with bluetooth speakerphone capabilities. The groceries I so tirelessly clip coupons for? Are to make this Indian Butter Chicken recipe I found on pinterest this week, which I found while searching on my laptop, one of the four computers in our apartment.

These, ladies and gentlemen, are what I like to call "First World Problems".

Now let me backtrack. These problems, to me in this point in time, hurt like hell. I'm scared, I feel lost and unsafe; they are real to me. And they should be. It's my life, and this is what is going on in it, and I don't feel bad about feeling... well, bad. But what I'm urging myself to do is to keep it in perspective. Be scared, be afraid, but then remember just how lucky I am. I have a clean bed and warm place I come home to every night. I am in the top 1% of the world.

Which reminds me of a video Rob Bell put out a few years ago. Whether you like him or dislike, think he's a heretic going to hell or really, don't think of him at all, what he has to say in this video is, to me, dead on:

Maybe I need to remind myself that I am "rich", despite how it feels to be the one at the discount food store buying crystal light that expired last September (yes, I did that this week, and you know what? It tasted GOOD). Maybe, what I have is enough.

Which leads me back to this idea of "First World Problems". Below is a blog I found some time ago; it cracks me up every time I read it. I've provided the link below, the blog's description, and a few posts from readers I could definitely see myself saying at some point in time.

I write to challenge myself, but also all of us, to really sit back and reflect on how blessed we are, even when it doesn't feel like it.

First World Problems Blog: "It isn't easy being a privileged citizen of a developed nation. This blog is a catalog of the unending ways it's lonely at the top. Contact the honkies in charge at and tell us how you've suffered."

“My back hurts from carrying my $2000 laptop around.”

“My roommate has a different song that plays for every different person who texts her. 'Party in the USA' friend has been texting her for the past two hours.”

“I wanted to watch YouTube videos; however, I found it to be too much effort to roll over and take my computer off hibernate, so I had to wait forever for it to buffer on my iPhone.”

“I can’t fit all of the gift cards I received at Christmas into my wallet.”

“I have to wear a regular motorcycle helmet because the two Bluetooth models I purchased can’t share music with each other.”

"Family Guy’ is on two different channels at the same time and I can’t figure which one has the most potential.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

They're Just Kids...

Since my last post, I've had two different people indicate that perhaps I was a little harsh in my words towards the individual who wrote on the bathroom stall. Their reason? This person is a high schooler; despite how wrong their comments were, they don't know any better, yet. Their brain isn't fully developed, so even though they are wrong (and each person who questioned me agreed that the behavior was wrong), I shouldn't judge them so harshly because kids do stupid things at that age. I was even encouraged to think of the mean and ridiculous things I said or believed at that age. And they're right, I did say and do stupid and probably hateful things at that age.

But here is what I have to say in response to this question: how will we change the minds of kids, and teach them that the things they are saying and doing are indeed wrong, if no one is willing to say it?

For the record, I don't think this is "kids being kids". This is systematic thinking that is being passed down throughout the generations. My husband later told me that he saw an additional two swastikas drawn in the school; a larger one on another bathroom stall wall and one drawn on a blood drive flyer outside of the teacher's lounge. This additional information prompted me to write the school and ask that they take efforts to take down these symbols, especially if they intend to host community events where kids will be present, and will probably be using the restrooms (this was a military family readiness academy, hosted by the National Guard for the families of soldiers coming home from overseas).

I agree that a person's brain takes a long time to develop; some say it may not be fully formed until the age of 25. But I do not believe that it means that kids can't be taught the values of what is good, right, and kind. Here is an example of a kid who gets it:

Kids have enormous influence in the lives of each other, as evidenced by the new wave of teens committing suicides for being bullied, specifically as it relates to their sexual orientation. My hope is that we can become a people, and a world, that learns to love our neighbors, no matter who they are and what they believe. To be a people who pour love into all people, despite our differences.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Niggs, Wiggs, and Hicks

My husband is at National Guard Drill this weekend. Somewhere through the course of the weekend, his endeavors led him to Brainerd High School, a high school located in central Minnesota. While there, he texted me this picture:

You may not be able to read the words in this picture, but it's a picture of a bathroom stall wall at the high school. Above a drawn swastika, it reads,

"Fuck niggs and wiggs, hicks will rise."

Which to that, someone has written "ya!".

I don't know why, but for some reason, I am still, absolutely astounded when I hear about things like this. But to be honest, I shouldn't be. I have a degree in sociology and am on my way to a masters in social justice studies. I, more than most, should be keenly aware of the racism that still exists in America today. I know about the racial disparities in the criminal justice system. I know that
where you live in America dictates how you live. I know that while many people are fighting for justice and for real and lasting change in this country, institutional discrimination is still alive and well. Take a look at the New Jersey Turnpike Study if you don't believe me; it will blow your mind.

And yet, I see something like this, and I am still stunned. I am still disgusted. I want to cry.

that, is why I am writing. After a five year absence from this blog, I can no longer stay quiet about the things happening in this world that are simply not right.

Amid all the recipes, home decorating tips, and friends' baby nursery ideas on pinterest, I came across this photo the other day. Something about this photo awoke something that has been sitting idle inside me for far too long. Silence. Silence about what I know to be true and the courage to say it.

I can say with full confidence and assurance that what is written on that bathroom wall, is wrong. The fact that the school has done nothing to take it off, is wrong. The fact that someone wrote "ya!", is wrong.

Unfortunately for us, the word "racism" is thrown around far too much in this country. Too often, people accuse each other of being or acting "racist". Just so we're clear, I'm going to provide us all with the sociological definition of racism. Racism, is "the idea or belief in the superiority of a given race of people and therefore the inherent inferiority in other races." This bathroom wall writing, is a clear example of one individual valuing their superiority over another. "Rising" assumes the need to elevate, or "rise", over another. To become superior, while making others inferior.

It is this kind of thinking that is, I hate to say it in such crass terms, ass backwards. This thought is a thought that divides us as a people, and as a country. So here is what I have to say to this individual....

Hello name-less, face-less, cowardly person who had to voice his thoughts on a bathroom stall, where no one could identify him,

You are wrong. I am ashamed of you, and I feel sorry for you. I truly do. I don't know if anyone's told you this recently, but you live in the year 2012. In 2012, we don't, or shouldn't I should say, believe that some are superior while others are inferior. We are
all, children of God, and have worth that you can't even begin to understand. As Brad Paisley so wonderfully sang, "welcome to the future". In this future, you are welcomed, but your hateful thoughts and actions are not. As John Mellencamp put it, "if you're not part of the future, than get out of the way." So please, next time you feel the need to elevate yourself above others, making yourself higher while pushing others down... don't. If you're not willing to change, and accept all of us, then just keep it to yourself.

Oh, and next time, don't deface public property. Besides being illegal, it's just not nice.