As the seventh graders left the classroom, I asked these boys to hang back for a second because I needed to talk to them. Here’s what I had to say:
This is one of those things where I talk and you listen and maybe, hopefully you will apologize when I’m done. It is never okay to joke about racism. People have died because of racism. Not just people like Martin Luther King Jr. forty years ago, but people last year. People have died and continue to die because of racism.
People you know in your lives, teachers in their school and friends of yours face racism. Racism hurts and scars. It’s one of the biggest problems in our society.
To joke about racism is to say that the suffering that people feel every day because of racism is not important, that their pain is not real. That is not insensitive and offensive.
You live in a world that is less racist than times past. You enjoy the sacrifices that people have made fighting racism, every single day. You cannot make a light of this and turn one of the most important issues in American history into a joke.
Here’s another thing: Racism is serious. If I joke that one of the other teachers at Parker is being racist, they would be investigated seriously. Even if they find out that I was just making a joke. The investigation would damage their career and my job would be in jeopardy.
Make fun of something else about each other. Mock how the sports team they like is bad, talk about how they dress funny, pick something else. I get that you make jokes about each other sometime. That’s fine, that’s part of being a man.
Don’t ever make a joke about something being racist ever again. It’s offensive to me as an Asian-American, the people in history who died because of racism and your friends who identify as being a person of color.
People your age have died because of racism. There’s nothing funny about that.