I always think the best columns are those that don’t tell you what you already know or flatter your existing prejudices (Mr. Albom’s territory), or even those that make you think of something you hadn’t before (which is still a pretty good column), but those that make you think YES THIS IS EXACTLY IT and it’s something that was right in front of you all the time. Like those 3D puzzles where you have to find the dolphin in the pattern. You let your eyes swim out of focus, and then the dolphin is right there.
Today, that distinction goes to Monica Hesse at the Washington Post, writing about the infamous picture from Baraboo High School, of the Nazi-saluting kids, taken last spring at the prom.
On Monday, this photo surfaced online (under the hashtag #BarabooProud) and immediately went viral. The photographer later maintained he’d merely asked the boys to wave, though the gesture didn’t resemble a wave made by any hand-possessing human. In response to an outpouring of outrage, the superintendent issued a statement: “We want to be very clear. The Baraboo School District is a hate-free environment.”
If this response sounds familiar, it’s because it echoes the bland assurances recited by officials whenever poison bubbles up in America.
…So, to the Baraboo superintendent: If your defense is, “We’re a hate-free environment,” but there’s a photo of 60 of your students Sieg Heil-ing on the steps of the county courthouse, then maybe you should consider the possibility that you are, in fact, a hate-filled environment.
Maybe it hit home because it has happened a few times around here, particularly before kids realized that social media is not a private affair. There were some kids who wrote “I (heart) n*ggers” on their bodies, took pictures and sent them around, then seemed amazed that they ended up on the 6 o’clock news. There was another closer to the 2016 campaign, where they shot video of themselves being racist.
Here, as in Baraboo, the reaction was exactly the same: This isn’t who we are! And, to be sure, it isn’t who most people are, at least not out loud and in public. However, anyone who denies the casual racism that percolates in suburban and rural communities — hell, in pretty much all communities — isn’t paying attention.
I think a lot of people would like to believe they live in a hate-free environment simply because they won’t let their children drop n-bombs at the dinner table, but as Hesse says, when 60 kids will sieg heil on command, either you’re not teaching them what it means, or, option B, they think it’s no big deal.
And that’s a big deal. That’s the dolphin in the 3D puzzle.
Hesse’s columns are really good. Find them here.
And that will be it for me today, for lo, though the week is still young, it has me feeling very old. Gotta eat more protein tomorrow. Carbs are poison.