By Nora Flanagan
The tragic Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin has brought national attention to the relationship between deadly violence and white power music. With a new school year right around the corner, now is a good time to discuss what to do if you see signs of hate groups in your school. Music is the single strongest recruitment tool of neo-Nazi skinhead groups. If you’re seeing a white power band promoted by someone at your school, in essence, you’re seeing a new recruit.
This is not about turning students against one another. If someone has joined a hate group, they’ve already turned themselves against the vast majority of their school community. Additionally, this has become an issue of school safety – yours, your classmates, and everyone else in the building. If someone in your school is flying the flags of racist hatred, it can lead – and has in many instances – to acts of vandalism, harassment and violence. This isn’t one of those situations where a student should sit and wonder if it’s okay to tell. It’s okay to tell. You’ll not only be fighting hate in your everyday life; you’ll potentially be keeping your school safe and everyone in it.
What to look for
The first signs you might see of an increasing white power presence include patches, pins, t-shirts or fliers for white power bands or organizations. High schools have also reported finding recruitment fliers – often printed directly from the ‘youth outreach’ sections of a number of white nationalist organizations – in students’ possession and around the school. These materials, both for bands and organizations, often have recognizable hate symbols on them. While the swastika is the most obvious symbol, it is by far not the only one commonly used. Take a look at the Anti-Defamation League’s page titled Hate On Display: A Visual Database of Extremist Symbols, Logos and Tattoos for a quick rundown of the most common graphic indicators of a hate group.
But you should also know the difference between punk and hatecore, and between the non-racist skinhead subculture and white power skinheads. A kid in a pair of boots with a shaved head is not automatically a racist. In a lot of areas, there are large numbers of non-racist and anti-racist skinheads. Boots don’t make a bonehead; politics do. So check out the patches and pins on his or her jacket. You might be looking at somebody who’s on the exact same side of the issue as you are.
What to do
- Tell an Adult. While this might sound like every public service announcement you’ve ever heard, your best ally is an adult you can trust. Think of the teacher that you know who is a big music fan, or the one you know holds strong anti-racist politics. Tell them what you saw. Show them this story, or link them to www.turnitdown.net. If you don’t feel comfortable going straight to an adult in the school, talk to a few friends or classmates whom you know would be concerned. Or talk to one of your parents or an older sibling, if you think that would go more smoothly. But talk to somebody. Don’t sit around and wait for it to get worse.
- Intervene, Don’t Incite. You don’t want to create a panic or encourage violence against any student. Situations like this get really bad, really fast. This isn’t something you want to feed to the school rumor mill. Get an adult involved as quickly as you can, so that the problem can be resolved without incident.
- Stay Safe. You have every right to ask the adults at your school to keep your name out of the situation. They’ll understand why you want to stay anonymous. They’ll also realize that you’re talking to them for the good of your school and everyone in it, and that you’re alerting them to something they wouldn’t have seen themselves. Some schools might not want to see or admit that they have a growing problem. That’s where physical evidence comes in: show them the ADL list of symbols, and show them which ones you’ve seen.
- Trust your Gut. We’ve heard from schools in which an entire recruitment effort was caught because one person recognized the name of a white power band on a t-shirt, or saw a racist symbol on someone’s jacket. It sometimes takes a couple of tries to get people to listen, but we’ve seen schools successfully stop a hate group problem without creating additional problems and without infringing on anyone’s constitutional rights.
The rights and wrongs
You should know that students do not have the free speech right to display hate symbols in school. Most schools maintain some kind of completely legal policy against hate group activity. In some schools, hate symbols fall under gang activity rules; in others, a more general ‘disruptive to the educational process’ rule is invoked. Either way, know that these symbols aren’t allowed. If by some oversight of basic common sense, your school doesn’t have a policy against stuff like this, contact us, and we’ll help you demand a policy change.
We hope you never have to deal with the issue of hate in your school. But if you do see it rearing its ugly head, you can do something about it. And you should. Just as our music scenes should remain free from hate, so should our schools. Nobody should have to sit in class next to somebody advertising organized hate.
Let us know if we can help. If your school has faced problems with hate groups, we want to know about it. Email us anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please see Chapter 2 of our Turn It Down Resource Kit at www.turnitdown.net for more suggestions about keeping your school free of organized bigotry. The Resource Kit contains tips for working with fellow students, talking to adults in the building, and organizing against hate in your school.