The fire surrounding the national anthem war is infecting schools which could result in unintended institutional racism. Politicians and business leaders have sided with standing during the National Anthem while National Football Players and other sports figures are on both sides of the lane. Stuck in the middle are administrators and children. Children are seeking alternatives to express their political views while many school administrators seek to maintain a productive educational school climate which has resulted in disciplinary consequences for many Black students. Schools are on cusp of becoming instruments of institutional racism unless alternative solutions are implemented.
Several private school institutions have admittedly expressed their opposition to students who desire to exercise their political rights of freedom of speech by not standing during the playing of the National Anthem. Their response has overwhelmingly resulted in institutional racism against Black students.
For example, the two Black Victory & Praise Christian Academy football players below were kicked off the team for protesting during the National Anthem at a game. Cedric Ingram-Lewis raised his fist while cousin Larry McCullough knelt during the anthem ahead of the team’s game against Providence Classical. After the anthem ended, head coach Ronnie Mitchem instructed them to take off their uniforms and kicked them off the team. Mitchem is a former Marine and pastor who started the church-based football program in Crosby six years ago. This school has become an instrument of institutionalized racism.
Institutional racism is a form of racism expressed in the practice of social and political institutions. Institutional racism is also racism by individuals or informal social groups, governed by behavioral norms that support racist thinking and foment active racism. It is reflected in disparities regarding wealth, income, criminal justice, employment, housing, health care, political power and education, among other things. Whether implicitly or explicitly expressed, institutional racism occurs when a certain group is targeted and discriminated against based upon race.
The demonstrations against the National Anthem are associated with the belief that Blacks are victimized by other institutions. According to former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” This is the perspective of many Black students who decide to protests the national anthem. The number of Black student protestors far outweigh any other ethnic groups.
It is safe to say that schools that decide to punish students for not honoring the National Anthem will participate in the business of institutional racism because the majority of the students that are going to get disciplined will be Black.
Rather than become instruments of institutional racism, schools need to continue to focus on the business of education. No matter how an individual educator may feel personally, they must continue to protect the rights of students.
Students do not lose their freedom of rights to express their political views when they enter school. According to the Burnside v. Byars case a group of public school students at an all-black school in Philadelphia, Mississippi wore “freedom buttons” to school to protest racial segregation in the state. The school principal ordered the students to remove the buttons. The principal believed that the buttons would “cause commotion” and “disturb the school program.” When several students continued to wear the buttons, the principal suspended them for a week. The Fifth Circuit panel held by a 3-0 vote that school officials could not prohibit the wearing of the “freedom buttons” because there was no evidence that the buttons would have caused a substantial disruption.
In the case of Jeremiah Blackwell, Jr., et al., Appellants, v. Issaquena County Board of Education, on Friday, January 29, 1965, approximately 30 pupils at the all-Negro Henry Weathers High School wore “freedom buttons” to class. The following Monday approximately 150 pupils came to school wearing the buttons. The next day close to 200 students appeared wearing buttons. On April 1, 1965, a mandatory preliminary injunction was sought to compel school officials to re-admit the suspended pupils and to allow them to wear freedom buttons so long as no disturbance resulted.
It was held in Burnside that a school regulation forbidding the wearing of freedom buttons was unreasonable in that the presence of such buttons on school grounds did not cause a disturbance of classroom activities nor was such a rule necessary for the maintenance of order and discipline within the school under the facts and in the circumstances of that case.
Public schools only have one alternative. As long as the demonstration is peaceful and does not disrupt the classroom it has to be allowed otherwise they are going to lose money through civil litigation. Even though private schools are held to a different standard, they can only become instruments of institutionalized racism for punishing Black students for kneeling during the National Anthem.
Dr. Derrick L. Campbell, Ed.D.
PO Box 4707 Cherry Hill, NJ 08034
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