The recent news of the Kenmore East High School girls varsity basketball team's "chant" involving a racial slur is disheartening. So, too, have been the rumors surrounding players of past generations alluding to the possibility that this ritual originated years prior and has been passed down as "tradition" from former members of the team.
As one of those players, I know that I speak for all of my former teammates when I say that not only are we deeply disappointed by the remarks and the potentially damaging effects they may have on the legacy of Kenmore East girls basketball, but that allegation stating that this chant originated with our class of athletes is simply not true.
Those of us who mentally point toward our athletic years filled with comradery and sportsmanship as some of our most formative are questioning why a team of roughly 15 young women would think this was OK. But we don't blame them.
They continued to use the chant because they failed to see a problem with it. Surely this is a sign of ignorance regarding the social and emotional implications of the use of this slur and others, but it is also evidence of a lack of cultural awareness and education in parts of our society today.
Nor are we blaming the district or the teachers. I was educated by some of the most intelligent adults I have ever come to know at Kenmore East. Upon graduating in 2002, I attended Geneseo State College, where I majored in education and history. I made the decision to become a teacher largely because of the profound effects that our school, coach Jack Blanch and basketball in general had on my life. I consider myself lucky to be a Kenmore East alumnus and to have been able to take advantage of the many opportunities I was offered throughout my adolescence. More important, I'll always be indebted to the wonderful mentors I met along the way.
As a teacher, though, I can't help but wonder whether the pressure to focus on strict standards-based education rather than the education of the whole child plays a role in this and similar situations. After explaining the story to an African-American colleague, she disappointingly shrugged and curtly stated, "That's just where we are as a society now. People don't think slurs are offensive anymore because we're past all that."
As a history teacher, I can't accept this, though I do fear she may have a point. Are we starting to use the fact that we are becoming an increasingly diverse society as an excuse for the nonchalant use of hurtful slurs and insults because we're past all of that? Do we neglect to partake in teachable moments with students or those who surround us because we think the days of racism and discrimination are a thing of the past?
Or, perhaps I'm overthinking it. Perhaps this was an isolated instance of insensitivity, blown out of proportion after a fight between teammates exposed the offensive pregame ritual. Maybe, after a few more years of education, the players will look back upon their experience and will be able to articulate why, exactly, the chant was incredibly inappropriate and hurtful.
Either way, kudos to Mark P. Mondanaro and the staff at Kenmore East for recognizing the need for sensitivity training and not dismissing the incident because we're past all that.