Don’t make fun of slavery. Don’t call a group chat “Kill the Blacks.” Don’t make ape noises while a Black girl is getting ready to take a penalty kick in a soccer game.
Those simple lessons in civil behavior have apparently not made it to every high school football field in the Sacramento area. A string of racist incidents such as these have landed Sacramento-area schools in the headlines and led to a string of canceled football games.
The first incident, in March, involved an El Dorado Hills’ Oak Ridge football player taunting a Buchanan High soccer player with ape sounds. Last week, Amador High canceled its varsity football season because of a Snapchat group named “Kill the Blacks.” Last week, River Valley in Yuba City canceled its Friday game with Woodcreek after a TikTok video created by players included a mock slave auction.
The River Valley school district later forfeited the entire season, saying, “They may have thought this skit was funny, but it is not; it is unacceptable and requires us to look honestly and deeply at issues of systemic racism,” the Yuba City Unified School District said Saturday night in a statement.
Sacramento-area Black football coaches said they were hurt and alarmed by the news of the River Valley video. Even though California’s national image is seen as progressive as a whole, high school coaches say this recent wave of racist racist behavior at schools shows the Sacramento area still has a long way to go.
“I saw a video clip of it on social media and my first take was, ‘Am I still in the deep South? Am I in Alabama or Mississippi?’ “ said Luther Burbank coach Bryan Golder. “This is California, one of the most diverse states. How are we going backward?”
“As an American, I’m hurt,” said Reggie Harris, the Inderkum coach whose team plays in River Valley’s league. “Racism will stay alive and kicking as long as it’s taught at home or is allowed at home. It’s a shame. Kids will emulate what’s taught at home. It’s a travesty. It takes us back again. Here we are as coaches, promoting teamwork, family, togetherness, regardless of color, creed or religion, and yet we still have this going on?”
Culture and the N-word
Community activist Berry Accius wasn’t surprised by the news. Accius works with kids as a mentor and leader in Sacramento through his Voice of Youth program. He said schools don’t do nearly enough to teach kids racial competency.
“It’s just so crazy how we’ve allowed the next generation to look like the other generation, and the other generation before that, because nobody has done the due diligence as adults to say we are going to diversify the contributions of African Americans,” Accius said. “And make sure there is value in not only contributions but in the African American child’s experience in a predominantly white school. We can’t just sit there and have a couple black kids in a school and have that make everything good.”
The schools involved in the racist incidents have minority students. River Valley’s student minority population is 82%. But just 1.5% are Black students. At Amador, the minority makeup is 31.3%, with just 0.5% Black. .Oak Ridge has 34% minority enrollment, 1% Black.
But schools are not solely at fault, coaches and Accius said. Accius said, for example, American culture has popularized the use of the N-word in movies, TV and music lyrics. When kids hear that word, and hear Black people using it, they start to think it’s funny or OK.
It’s not OK, Accius said.
“I only say the N-word as shock treatment,” Accius said. “I think that word, that means death, desensitizes individuals from saying the word. Again, I’m a white football player that has Black teammates and I’m listening to music that says the N-word, and now I’m hearing these Black football players, my teammates, bantering back and forth with it, I’m going to feel more comfortable using it.”
Coaches said social media amplifies that culture, with negative effects.
Elk Grove’s Monterey Trail football coach T.J. Ewing said social media gives too large a platform to kids who haven’t fully developed an understanding of the world around them.
“I don’t know if those (River Valley) kids understand that you push that button on social media and the whole world will see it,” he said. “Yes, it’s hurtful.
“People have to be around people to understand people,” he continued. “… They’re still young people, those players. They’ve got to be taught that this isn’t OK.”
At Sutter County’s East Nicolaus High,23 miles away from River Valley, C.J. Hatcher works as an assistant coach with the Spartans. He is Black, working with mostly white and Latino kids. He is from North Carolina and recalled his family, direct descendants of slaves, and how his mother, now 83, suffered through racial segregation.
“I’m beyond disappointed and disgusted,” he said. “ …We need to all address this with our teams, to build awareness. Make a stupid video, say and do hurtful things, and it’s going to live forever. The perils of social media can do a lot of harm.”
Dealing with racism
Forfeiting a game or a season isn’t enough, Accius said. He said the problem lies in kids thinking racist comments or acting racist is OK or funny. He said the football team will come back next week or next year but the racism lingers.
Accius has heard the taunts at sports events, with fans yelling at players who took a knee during the national anthem, inspired by former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. In many sports, white kids will provoke Black kids with racial taunts because they know it will set them off, Accius said.
Accius see silver linings.
He gave the example of a Rosemont football player, whose team was about to face Amador when the game was canceled because of the racist group chat. The player was happy because the news got out and people were going to face a reckoning.
“He told me they should never play football again. Those players should be banned,” Accius said. “But he said he’s happy these stories are getting exposed. Some of these schools, they used to call (him) the N-word all the time.”
This story was originally published October 3, 2022 5:00 AM.
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