When home team Brooke High School in West Virginia faced off Friday against visiting Perry High School from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a banner was displayed in front of the Brooke High bleachers.
It read “Trump Perry” with red and blue paint, followed by an American flag — and some observers didn’t like it at all.
— Sheila May-Stein (@smaystein) September 23, 2017
Sheila May-Stein — a librarian with Pittsburgh Public Schools who is white and calls herself an “outlaw educator” — tweeted a photo of the banner Saturday with smiling Brooke students behind it, saying her “mostly Black, inner-city school played this team last night & were confronted w/this. Sickening racism.”
The superintendent of the Brooke County school district apologized Monday for the banner, calling it “insensitive, intimidating and offensive,” the Post-Gazette reported.
“The sign’s message does not reflect our true beliefs nor what we want to teach our children,” Toni Paesano Shute said in a letter to Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Anthony Hamlet, the paper added. “Policies were not followed by the school’s administrators to ensure a climate free from bullying and harassment, and as a result people were offended in our home. We have a moral obligation to teach our children, and we will make this a teachable moment to instill the core values of respect and dignity for all.”
The banner fracas came the same day as President Donald Trump’s headline-grabbing comments, suggesting that NFL team owners fire “son of a b***h” players who disrespect the American flag. In defiant response, scores of NFL players linked arms and took a knee during the playing of the national anthem before Sunday games.
But according to Brooke students, there was no racism intended or involved regarding the “Trump Perry” banner.
The Post-Gazette said the Brooke football team’s Twitter account revealed that there’s a different theme for every home game, and the theme for the Perry game was “red white & blue so we used the saying ‘trump’ for double meaning. Being one our president and two using the world ‘trump’ which also means ‘beat.’ Also this was our first time ever playing them.”
REMINDER : tonight's game is red white and blue!! ❤️🏈💙
— Student section 2018 (@BBSSFootball18) September 22, 2017
An image of the banner was the featured photo on the team’s Twitter page until that account was taken down late Monday morning, the paper reported, adding that Shute said in her letter the account was not authorized by the school.
How are others reacting?
It appears things have escalated since news of the banner hit. There’s now an online petition to remove Shute from her superintendent position over her apology:
Mrs. Shute was completely out of line and overreacted by apologizing to the “Entire Pittsburgh Perry Community” for signs at a football game between the BHS team and Perry that said “Trump Perry” in Red, White and Blue the colors of the American Flag. She took it upon herself to politicize the sign as an endorsement for President Donald J Trump instead of a creative design from a student or students. Her political correct beliefs have no place in the Brooke County School System. Children under our education system should be taught that “freedom” of expression is allowed and that the superintendent and other educators should not press upon students their personal political beliefs and political correctness. Take a stand against educators who try to indoctrinate your children into their personal political beliefs!
The petition has attracted nearly 600 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon. But May-Stein — the Pittsburgh Public Schools librarian who characterized the banner as “sickening racism” — called the petition against Shute “obscene,” adding that she “did the right thing as an educator and a human. Support her!”
Hamlet — the Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent, who is black — said in a statement that “since the presidential campaign, superintendents across the country have found themselves apologizing for the use of President Donald Trump’s name to taunt minority students. After speaking with several individuals in attendance at the game, we have learned that despite the sign, no further incidents occurred and both teams displayed good sportsmanship towards each other,” the Post-Gazette reported.
In addition, the Perry coaching staff reported that “the overall game experience went well without incident” and that the “Brooke team and cheerleaders treated Perry players and cheerleaders cordially. Perry coaches did not report any further incidents from game attendees,” the paper added, citing Pittsburgh Public spokeswoman Ebony Pugh.
But Pittsburgh parent Jessie Ramey — who called for an apology in an open letter to Shute, the Post-Gazette reported — said the use of Trump’s name on the banner carries disturbing undertones.
“The use of the current President’s name is an intentional signal to opponents that they are in ‘Trump’ territory — and that has real meaning, especially for our Black children in this moment,” Ramey wrote, the paper said. “… I am appalled that the adults in your school district not only approved of this sign, but are actively celebrating it, making it the featured photograph on the official school team Twitter page. This is what racism in America looks like today.” Shute didn’t return a message Monday from the Post-Gazette.
This writer’s perspective
Amazingly, no one actually came right out and said what makes the mention of “Trump” on the banner a form of racism. Neither superintendent from either district offered a reason. Not even the angry parent from Pittsburgh. But it would seem the answer is self-evident (at least according to those angry about the banner): They believe Trump is a racist. Therefore the mention of his name on a banner signals “racism coming your way.”
Obviously, if it were provable that Trump is a racist, then those angry at the banner would have a pretty good case for being upset. But is it a provable charge? Certainly it’s a feeling shared by many Americans of all skin colors, but often such a declaration is accompanied by little if any evidence to back it up. In fact it’s become a meme so frequently repeated and culturally ingrained that once a Trump hater utters the “racist” accusation, the trained observer can pretty much complete the string of charges on cue: “…homophobe, xenophobe, misogynist.” Trump may have something against your cat, too, although the jury’s still out on that.
The students from Brooke High seem to have a decent excuse — that the word Trump is a synonym for “beat” in a sporting contest, that the theme was red, white and blue and that Trump is president. One might also wonder if another issue on some minds — particularly with those who found the sign distasteful — is that perhaps the Brooke students should have anticipated the Perry visitors would take offense at the banner, regardless of whether or not Trump is actually a racist. In other words, “someone who believes Trump is a racist might see this banner, so therefore we shouldn’t unfurl it.” Then you get into the area of cultural sensitivity, as opposed to racism.
But hanging out there still is the ongoing “feeling” among many that Trump is a racist — an emotional response that leads to dust-ups like this. Will it eventually become a tired meme? Will it pick up steam? Perhaps we’ll find out.