Smoke Signal file photo
Pay attention as you walk down the hallways of Pascack Valley High School. If you listen and look closely, you’ll hear and see exactly what students of minority groups experience every day: a stream of hateful racial, ethnic, and homophobic slurs. Sometimes these may be subtle, but they are always extremely offensive, unjust, and threatening. In the past few months, more and more students have been reporting signs and incidents of racism, including: swastikas drawn in the hallway in bathrooms, uses of the “n” word and other racial slurs, and white power signs displayed by PV students at sporting events and on social media.
There is no denying it: a group of Pascack Valley’s own students have been publicly advocating white supremacy, in our hallways, at our sporting events, and on social media. White supremacy is the idea that the white race is inherently superior to all other races, and therefore should dominate society. It is a “historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of people of color.” White supremacists not only target people of color, but members of religious, gender, and sexual minorities as well. Those hand signals in the form of a “W” that you see displayed within our halls, at sporting events, and in pictures on social media are signals of “White Power” (not “win”). Is this the image of Pascack Valley High School that we want advertised? It is time for the student body, faculty, and administration to be aware of this issue occurring within and beyond PV’s own walls and to feel empowered and compelled to stop it.
Racism, hatred, and intolerance in any way is not cool, nor is it funny. When you stand by in silence you are passively supporting it. When you “like” or “share” social media posts you are perpetuating it. Not being an actively racist, queerphobic, sexist, or anti-semitic person does not mean that you are not a part of the problem. However, we can all work together to combat the oppression present in our community and change the negative tone that has dominated our school climate in recent months.
The Human Rights League at PV firmly believes that free speech is a wonderful concept, but people have the ability to corrupt their right to it. There is no warranted reason to threaten the happiness and safety of individuals whose beliefs and/or identity do not hurt themselves or others. Oppression is not wrong just because it is “wrong” – it is an unfounded attack on human beings who live their lives with their own identity, purpose and originality. We can never reach a better world if bystanders to these incidents do not act in solidarity with those who are abused physically and emotionally simply for who they are. Do we want to make our mark as a school that tolerates hatred and contempt among its students on the basis of their identity? No. Do we want people at our school to feel scared to walk through the halls as they try to make it to class on time? Absolutely not.
Do we want to generate positive change to make individuals of all well-meaning groups welcome in our community? Of course. The only way we will ever be able to do this is if those who possess strong voices in this school, even when not directly affected by oppressive acts, stand up for those without voices. This must be made clear: hurting others in any form is not and never will be accepted or perpetuated at Pascack Valley High School. If the people you surround yourself with think it is, educate them. If you are an administrator or teacher, make this an important part of the curriculum. It is not okay in any context to make someone uncomfortable about their race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other aspect of his or her identity, which quite frankly have no bearing on the lives of everyone else. Everyone may be entitled to their opinion, but we have no time or patience for those whose opinions endanger the lives and safety of others and poison our school climate and image.
Author Wes Moore wrote: “The common bond of humanity and decency that we share is stronger than any conflict, any adversity, any challenge. Fighting for your convictions is important. But finding peace is paramount.” Please, pay attention, PV! Let’s fight this and show the world how amazing we can be!
To show your support for the cause uniting Pascack Valley, feel free to post on social media with #PeaceInPV. Let your voice be heard.
The PVHS Human Rights League
And Other Very Gracious Members of the Student Body and Faculty
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