Hate Mail at Elite Prep School

I’m blogging this story from the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel in midtown (NYC) where the Eastern Sociological Society meetings are about to begin. In addition to presenting at the conference today (for someone else) and Saturday (on some of my own stuff), my home-based DSL modem died, so logging in at $14.95-per-24hours via the hotel wifi is about the best I can do for Internet connection this morning. Annoying.

Back to blogging a news story. The New York Times this morning is reporting that there is an investigation underway into threatening hate mail sent to African American students at St. Paul’s, a predominantly white, elite prep school in New Hampshire. According to the article, approximately 525 students attend the school in grades in 9th through 12th. Of the 525 students, about 40 students (8%) are black. Here’s a snippet from the article about the hate mail:

According to several people associated with St. Paul’s, each student received a copy of his own photo from the school’s internal face book with the words “bang bang get out of here” written below. They said the letters, sent through the Postal Service, were postmarked from nearby Manchester, N.H.

Since I’m dashing off to present in a few minutes, I’ll just make a couple of the more obvious points about this incident. Clearly, this kind of harassment negatively affects students ability to learn and therefore has serious implications for the notion of “equality” in education. The elite classes in the U.S. are fond of the comforting fiction that while racism may exist in the lower classes, it certainly does not exist in the upper classes; this suggest otherwise (although as defenders of the elite classes will no doubt be quick to point out, it is possible the sender of the hate mail was from the middle or lower classes). And, while we’d like to believe that this is an isolated incident, there is ample empirical evidence about racism in our educational system to suggest that this a typical, rather than atypical, example of what students of color experience in school.

Blog updates from ESS as time and wifi allow.


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