Amid the news surrounding the shooting death of an unarmed black jogger in Georgia, a social media post closer to home was timely in the worst kind of way.
“Let’s hunt some n------,” reads the message on Snapchat, which was widely shared Wednesday and included a photo of two white teens, one of whom is holding a gun.
If we’re willing to run in honor of Ahmaud Arbery, the black man killed in South Georgia after being pursued by two white men, we need to be similarly compelled to examine the culture that produces such vile posts.
The Hanover County Sheriff’s Office is seeking a Class 1 misdemeanor charge against an unnamed Hanover teen for “use of profane, threatening or indecent language over public airways or by other methods.”
Sheriff David Hines, in a news release, said such an action is “highly offensive, inappropriate and has no place in society” — and good on Hines and the commonwealth’s attorney’s office for their prompt attention to this matter. He added: “Our strength of community comes from the tradition of family and unity that defines Hanover County.”
Does it, though?
It’s difficult to make the case for Hanover being a beacon of racial tolerance. To the contrary, the signals emanating from its staunch support of the indefensible — the school district’s insistence on retaining schools named for Confederate leaders — no doubt helped attract Ku Klux Klan leaders to the Hanover courthouse last summer.
“Highly offensive” and “inappropriate” are perfect descriptions of honoring people who fought against our nation in their attempt to preserve the sale and purchase of human beings.
Unchastened by the KKK hawking memberships in the seat of county government, the Hanover County School Board doubled down on bigotry, going to court and spending taxpayer dollars to defend the names of Lee-Davis High School and Stonewall Jackson Middle School.
The board had reason to celebrate this week; a federal judge dismissed the case by the NAACP, which had argued that the names violate the constitutional rights of African American students, make them feel unwelcome and force them to endorse the Confederacy if they wish to participate in sports and extracurricular activities.
Heck, as an athlete at a rival high school during the 1970s, the Confederates name made me feel unwelcome. I can’t imagine how conflicted black athletes at Lee-Davis have felt over the years.
Lee-Davis opened in 1959, during Virginia’s Massive Resistance to school integration. Clearly, the sentiments behind massive resistance remain alive. You can’t retain, embrace and protect the trappings of oppression without retaining some of the grimy residue.
I’ve been there, so I can say with authority: Few creatures can act as stupidly as a male adolescent. But is it too much to ask for Hanover residents and elected officials to express the sort of outrage over racism that they summon over a perceived threat to their Second Amendment rights?
Only one Hanover School Board member would answer Times-Dispatch reporter Kenya Hunter’s questions about the post. He was “disturbed.” So, too, were the many county residents of color who in the post’s aftermath shared their own painful experiences with racism.
“At a time when some are questioning Hanover County’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, I think the racist Snapchat post presents a moment for the school district and county leadership to commit to action on their stated values,” said Jonathan Zur, president and CEO of the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities.
“I am glad that the district strongly stated that they do ‘not tolerate racist, vulgar, profane, or obscene language or conduct.’ Candidly, though, putting out a statement is the easy part of the work. What do those words look like in action?”
The post produced outrage among some community members, but did not surprise Patricia Hunter-Jordan, vice president of the Hanover NAACP.
“I wish I was shocked, but I wasn’t,” Jordan told Hunter. She attributed the racist language to a problematic culture tolerant of racism and slow to condemn it.
Too often, it’s a struggle to coax condemnation out of Hanover’s elected officials when racism happens. Calls go unreturned or fail to elicit a response; responses lean toward obfuscation or avoidance. Too often, the responses lack clarity or passion.
“We kid ourselves when we look at these things as disparate events,” said Ashland Supervisor Faye Prichard. “We fool ourselves when we think that any of these are isolated.
“The inability to speak out against every single instance of racism ... speeds the next one, whatever it is.”
Hanover must stop running from the questions these incidents pose, and ask itself what it is doing — or not doing — to encourage them.
And it must engage its past — and the concerns of its African American residents — instead of being dismissive of both.