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Oak Ridge High School vs. McClatchy Racial Slurs: Apologies from a hapa alumn

Mar 10, 2016

Here on WTFab, I tend to keep things light-hearted and focused on the finer things in life, including fashion, food, and beauty. But every now and then, I sit down to write up a blog post and the words that tumble out are completely unrelated to those things. 

This evening as I was sitting on the couch blogging (as I do most evenings), I heard my husband next to me let out an audible, "Oh my god." When I leaned over to see what he was looking at on his phone, my stomach turned into knots. "Racial slurs ‘cheered’ during McClatchy, Oak Ridge HS basketball game." 

There's a reason nearby communities hate Oak Ridge. Nestled in a predominantly white, mid-upper class suburb, we're seen as privileged brats. At the time I was in high school there, I didn't really appreciate why. But after gaining a bit of perspective that comes with leaving your bubble, traveling, and just generally living your life a decade past high school, it's pretty crystal clear. As an example, when our basketball team traveled around to play other teams in different towns (many that were less well-off than our hometown), we had shiny new uniforms, matching Air Jordans that our parents had bought us, complete with gold and blue bows in our ponytails. It wasn't uncommon for parents to roll up to their children's basketball games in  a brand new Escalade.

I recall one year when everyone on the team was buying new, matching sweatsuits. Likely exasperated from shelling out cash for new shoes (to replace perfectly good kicks that simply didn't match the team's shoes) and sponsorship fees, my parents decided that they were not going to be buying me a new sweatsuit. When it became apparent that only myself and one other teammate weren't getting a new track suit, my coach pulled my dad aside and asked, "Is it the money?" One of the moms even talked about having all the other parents donate to "the cause" so that I could get a team track suit. To be clear, my parents were doing just fine financially. They just thought it was stupid to throw $150 out the window for an ugly track suit that I didn't need. And in case you're wondering, my parents did end up buying me that track suit after all of this commentary. Probably so that I wouldn't become the social pariah of our basketball team. [Edit: This particular tracksuit story happened in middle school, across the street from ORHS. Just wanted to make sure the current ORHS basketball coach didn't catch any flack for this.]

Being half Japanese in this type of community wasn't exactly a joy. It was confusing, embarrassing, and at times, painful. Not that I always felt like this (to be clear, for the most part my ethnicity didn't feel like an issue), but it's fair to say that the mere mention of anything "Asian" made me tense up for fear that someone would take it as an opportunity to turn it into a racist joke. It wasn't until I left my hometown after high school that I realized that my Japanese heritage was a beautiful thing, and something to be proud of.

And so, I'd like to apologize on behalf of Oak Ridge and the Lady Trojans. I apologize for the hateful cheers. And the racist taunts. I can't even imagine how those McClatchy girls felt out on the court. I probably would have burst into tears. And I hope for these Oak Ridge students' sake that after high school they're able to get out of their bubble and broaden their horizons. 

A couple years ago I was at one of those awkward but also super amusing nights at a local bar in El Dorado Hills where you run into all sorts of people from high school and politely make small talk with them. A guy who was from my graduating class at Oak Ridge started chatting me up. If this was my first time meeting him, I would have thought that he was a perfectly nice person. But I couldn't help myself. I looked him dead in the eye and said exactly what I was thinking: "You know, we didn't know each other well in high school, and I don't remember much about you. But I do remember that we had a science class together, and that you called me a 'nip'." He was shocked. Maybe due to my forwardness, or maybe due to the realization that he was a prick in high school. He apologized. Profusely. And you know what? He seemed genuinely sorry and embarrassed.

So I have hope for these students. I hope they learn that their words and actions have meaning, and that they come to understand how they've embarrassed their school and their community. Mostly, I hope they learn how to be decent human beings.

I wasn't kidding about the shoes.

13 comments

  1. Hello Elise,

    I am a dad who has a sophomore daughter at ORHS, and another who graduated last year (at UCLA this year). I told my elder daughter about this, and she was sickened. There are a lot of decent kids at ORHS, but apparently none stood up to this behavior at the game. I would also hope the ORHS coach would have stepped up as well, in addition of course to all staff who were there. Racial taunts and body shaming have no place in sports, I don't care what level. Obviously these particular kids do not have good role models at home, and joined in a vicious pack mentality of verbal abuse. With regard to the person who "held back" the McClatchy player, that is a form of battery, and that person should be held accountable. I am going to speak to my youngest about some kind of solidarity action by students, to let McClatchy know not all of EDH is like this. Between this and the Principal fiasco, it's been a tough couple of months for ORHS. Thanks for your blog.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I love the idea of some kind of solidarity action by your daughter and the students. I think one of the most frustrating things in situations like these is feeling powerless and like you don't know what to do, and this type of action could help alleviate some of that and send a strong, positive message. I also think it'd be so much more meaningful than a bland apology statement issued by the school.

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  2. My daughter is a sophomore also, my son is a junior, and their older sister graduated from ORHS. All three of them think this is awful, and that the kids involved are just idiots.

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  3. Thank you for this blog. My son is a freshman at Oak Ridge and was really bummed out when I showed him the video and talked to him about it. He is mixed (not Asian), but has friends of pretty much every combination of ethnicity at ORHS, so maybe lives in a bit of a bubble. Our whole family is ashamed of this behavior, because even if we would never behave that way, that team represents our community and our school.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I also think it's great that you've had conversations with your son about it. It's a tough topic, but so important.

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  4. Another ORHS parent here. My son is a sophomore. We are disgusted by this recent display of racist behavior. Good for you for writing publicly about it! I have shared your Facebook post. We too will be speaking out to the administration and the community to let them know we absolutely do not and will not tolerate this. We encourage other ORHS parents and students to do the same.

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    1. Thanks for your comment, for taking action by speaking up, and for sharing the Facebook post!

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  5. Hello from Detroit, Michigan and a regular browswer of the web. Unforutunately in this day and age we're seeing more of this hatred played out and receiving much more attention due to social media, which may turn out to be a good thing. Personally I hope that you (the writer) stay on the path of getting issues like this resolved. You display a talent that I personally think can be appreciated by people who really want to get involved at resolution but can be hesistant at doing so for a host of reasons. Continue on your pursuit in making this world a sound and productive place where we all can live.

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  6. I officiate high school basketball in the section. This year has been a rough one for student sections and parents. I have seen several games where the parents take things personal during the game and verbally attack officials. Had a fan run on the court and attack a player this year too.

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    1. Yeah, the parents can definitely get out of hand too. But to attack a player? That's just crazy!

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  7. Thank you for your beautifully written piece on the horrible events that took place during a previous WBB game. My husband and I are both Oak Ridge alumni from when the school first opened. We moved back to EDH necause of the great schools for our children and to be near family. Our son is in 7th grade and our daughter is a senior at OR. These events are disheartening because of all of the efforts the school has taken to teach tolerance through a campus wide campaign titled Respect For All. Clearly there is more to be done on this front. And it definitely needs to begin from the District level with strong leadership. Our school has been without a Principal for almost 5 months now and clearly the administrators were not equipped to handle such despicable actions by our students. I am aware that our student leadership team will be reaching out, if they haven't already, to the other school's leadership team to attempt to come together to build a plan moving forward. Hopefully this will be a first step in healing and educating those students and families of Oak Ridge that lack class and tolerance. Because I can tell you that is not the beliefs and mentality of all EDH families and Oak Ridge students. My heart aches for you and what you have been through. Our family is as white as white can be. My husband and I worked full time and paid for our own education. We both did not grow up privileged at all even though we went to OR. We started our own business from the ground up and have been very successful. Nobody has ever given us anything. We teach our children respect, work ethic, character and tolerance. But unfortunately our own daughter has been seriously bullied. It changes a person. I have hopes that something good will come of this.

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  8. As a parent of bi-racial children who attend OR and I was there, let me clear up a few things.
    The original parent who complained said the kids were yelling things like Go Back to Fiji and Outback Steak house. A few misconceptions....The kids were yelling where is Gigi, reffering to injured McClatchy player Gigi Garcia. As for Outback Steakhouse, they kids have been yelling that at all basketball game (boys and girl) for no other reason then to make the other student body wonder why they are yelling it. Were there some inappropriate comments made by a few students, I do not doubt it. But the door swings both ways. The OR cheer team, who was standing between the two student bodies, were called f***ing whores, inbred and white trash.

    The injustice comes from the fact that McClatchy's parents cannot get off their pedestal long enough to realize that both schools could use a lesson in school spirit and respect.

    Here are a few other facts:
    -not one video can be produced to prove these allegations. Seriously, in the day of the smart phone, no one captured it. All we have to go on is the work of a few parents and their bandwagon of merry men. It is clear, based on the examples above, that the McClatchy parents misunderstood a couple chants.
    -The Sac Bee reporter Joe Davidson was at the game and tweeted he did not hear anything inappropriate. Does that count for anything?
    -OR teacher was in the student section and was actually shown to be throwing a kid out who stepped over the line. Why would he not stop that?

    Do not get me wrong, making racial comments is wrong on every level. My children have had to deal with that. However, accusing the entire student body of something they did not not do, is just as bad. Someone provide proof of the racial comments. If the McClatchy parents want to live on the denial river and think they have all angels going to that school, good luck with that too. They are not doing their students any favors. At least OR acknowledged some bad behavior and apologized. It is all in what you teach your kids.

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