Racist New Jersey Wrestling Photo Proves Post-Racial America Is a Fantasy

This photo is a lot of things. But it is not harmless, and it is most certainly not a prank.

racist-wrestling-photo-new-jerseyThis is tired.

This photo, which features students from a Phillipsburg High School in New Jersey, is only a snapshot in time, but when I see something this stupid, I always wonder what set the ball in motion. Whose idea was it? Did anyone object? Who suggested the poses? How arrogant do you have to be to take a picture of something like this? Who’s raising these people?

Noose tying doesn’t spring immediately to my mind when I think about how one might want to celebrate a sporting event. Neither does fashioning my sweatshirt into a Klan hood.

These are the types of hoodies that signal violence and make people feel threatened.

These are the types of insidious acts that should make us all aware that the idea that we are somehow now in a post-racial America is something somebody made up to alleviate the burden of dealing with race in this country. A collective pat on the back for voting for the black guy.

This photo signals that racism is not a regional issue. It would be convenient to believe that overt racism exists “down South,” a place that isn’t here, and isn’t close, and therefore isn’t our problem.

I am tired of writing about dead black children.

I am tired of reading about the state of Florida (and Michigan, and Georgia) and the unfathomable things that occur there.

I’m exhausted, really, from the wave of overt racism that’s been operating at full force since President Obama was sworn in the first time back in 2008. Of  my reaction to these incidents being mischaracterized as a type of hypersensitivity.

I was really trying to enjoy Black History Month, but the world is making it hard.

It was reported by The Inquirer that Phillipsburg Superintendent George Chando was “disappointed, upset and embarrassed” by the photo. A quick trip through the comments provides even more to be disappointed, upset, and embarrassed about, including several commenters reducing the incident to a “harmless prank” among high school students. Something that happens “all the time.”

It is not lost on me that the people in this photo are children. Older children, but still children and perhaps still able to be rehabilitated (although, again, I have to wonder who is raising them). But it is also not lost on me that lynchings were once public family outings in the south; commemorative photos were often taken next to the lifeless bodies of black men strung on tall poplar trees, a sick and morbid souvenir of victory over blackness.

And so perhaps these students are smarter than I give them credit for.

Not that the Klan rally that happens regularly in Philly.com’s comment sections should be any barometer for decency of the general population, but it’s still worth noting that there are people among us — in our grocery stores, our schools, or other parts of our community — roaming freely with these types of racist inclinations.

Then something happens — loud music, a “bang” at the door, a question about being followed — that makes people act on those inclinations that have gone so many years unchecked, because they’ve been dismissed as “pranks” or otherwise not taken seriously.  The ball, once again, set in motion — sometimes with lethal consequence.

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