After the racist messages sent in a group chat of students from the high school were made public via Facebook this past July, people, including writers from the Boston Globe, were quick to jump to the conclusion that Wellesley must be racist. After all, the messages that I saw on Facebook before their deletion were some of the most abhorrent and blatantly racist remarks that I’ve ever seen, referencing “genocide” (and using it incorrectly as a verb), and “lynching,” one of our nation’s most shameful racist practices.
The conclusion to label all 27,000 of our town’s residents as racist, however, was reactionary and made much too quickly by people such as commenters on the Boston Globe’s coverage of the incident.
Although it is used quite often in today’s world, many people believe that “racist” just means anyone who says something derogatory towards another race. “Racism” however, is defined as “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race,” by the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary.
I don’t believe that label fits the vast majority of our town which is 84% white, but I do believe that many people in the town are ignorant. Living in a wealthy and predominantly white town shields us from much of the racial tension evident throughout the country. From my personal experience as a person growing up in Wellesley, I have seen that racism is most often present in the daily life of a high schooler through what people intend to be jokes. Many students find these “jokes” funny, or laugh along anyway even if they don’t find them funny because they have yet to experience real-life racism. While I don’t believe that what the boys said this summer could ever be misinterpreted as jokes, I do believe that they said what they said not because they are racist but because they are obviously ignorant of the deep history of racism in this country and the scars that remain today in many communities across the United States. They mistakenly believed that they could joke about and make light of such horrific incidents in our history that bring shame to our nation without a second thought to the victims of racism in our nation’s troubled past. Despite almost every student finding the actions of the people involved in the incident deplorable, the students who were members of the chat aren’t the only ignorant people in Wellesley; we all are, and becoming more aware of real racism in the world around us is where we need to start in order fix these problems.