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Ferguson is the elephant in the room


By Casey Farrington



What is happening in Ferguson, Mo., is “modern history,” according to Edwardsville High School senior Abigail Wilson, as reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The school district has reportedly banned any discussion of Ferguson in the classroom.

Edwardsville is about a half-hour drive outside of Ferguson, located in a mostly white school district in southern Illinois.

Denial is a convenient strategy for those Americans who aren’t forced to think about their race. People today insist we are “post-racial” or we “don’t see race.” We tout President Barack Obama’s blackness as a symbol of our tolerance.

Meanwhile, according to a USA Today report, almost half of all black men can expect to be arrested by the time they are 23, and black women can expect to make little more than two-thirds what a white man makes in any given year.

Racism isn’t necessarily a Ku Klux Klan-like militarization of what are essentially mercenary forces of local idiots.

Racism today is systematic and indisious. It damages by turning societal oppresion into a side effect of federal and local government inefficiency.

At Edwardsville High School, black students make up 8 percent of the student population, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection, but account for 14 to 15 percent of suspensions.

Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles have shown that black boys as young as 10 are perceived to be considerably older than their white counterparts and therefore less innocent.

This might explain why, when something goes wrong at school, black students are much more likely to come in contact with the criminal justice system than white students.

Silencing students doesn’t make these problems go away. If anything, ignorance of these issues, and their roots in the very foundation of our republic, make the problems worse.

Edwardsville officials purport to be concerned that teachers might share their opinions about Ferguson rather than remaining objective facilitators.

But surely the district can reprimand teachers who cross the line individually rather than censor the topic altogether.

Instead, the district has chosen to stifle curious minds, forcing students to pretend that history isn’t being made just miles away. Students have been told the one thing they are eager to learn about isn’t worth the study.

Edwardsville and any school district that similarly restricts speech is committing educational malpractice.

Not talking about Ferguson won’t make the protests stop. It won’t improve relations between the citizenry and the police force. It won’t bring justice to Mike Brown or his family.

But talking about these problems — frankly and respectfully — could prevent future tragedies from happening. Acknowledging that racial issues aren’t a non-problem or a “them” problem, but a happening-as-we-speak, “us” problem could help us rebuild a community and protect others from fracturing.

Refusing to talk about it is not working, and students know it. If only school officials could catch up.

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