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Weber High cheerleaders desperately need lesson on history, compassion

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Oct 24, 2017

I never thought I'd be so completely unfazed at hearing otherwise wholesome-looking, ostensibly Mormon teenage girls repeatedly shouting the F-word.

But then, I suppose that's to be expected when the other word they happen to be using in tandem is the N-word. Because the vulgar term for sexual intercourse sounds positively genteel in comparison to the vulgar term for an entire race of people.

Back in the news for the second time this month? More unthinking teenagers.

On the heels of Woods Cross High School students caught on video chanting the culturally insensitive "Build that wall!" at a football game, some cheerleaders at Weber High School decided to go them one better.

Or rather, worse.

A video circulating last week showed five Weber High coeds sitting in a vehicle, repeatedly shouting the F-word followed by the N-word.

Apologists have attempted to point out the girls may not have actually vocalized the N-word. Apparently, there's a smartphone app that plays videos backward. So the clever girls pronounced the two words backward and -- aliov! -- gibberish becomes garbage.

As if that's some sort of loophole.

What, girls? You couldn't figure the backward way of saying "Fremont sucks?" It just had to be that particular two-word epithet?

With any luck, the girls' parents are way ahead of us on this one -- not waiting for the school, district or society to mete out punishment. I like to imagine there were plenty of late-night tears shed over this incident, that a lot of heartfelt conversations took place between parent and child.

Of course, the primary goal here is to make sure these girls understand -- really understand, to the core of their spirit-filled cheerleading beings -- just how terrible their words were. And the secondary goal is to make sure there is no doubt among the rest of us that while we absolutely cherish freedom of speech in this country, we also cherish equality for all.

And what these girls said was a direct assault on that equality.

I couldn't help but think: "What would I do if this were my daughter?" Tempting as it would be to ground her for life or take away her birthday or throw her to the social media wolves who are more interested in righteous indignation than any kind of meaningful understanding, what was clearly missing in these girls' cavalier attitude is the historical perspective on that word they so gleefully shouted.

If one of these girls were mine, I'd be contacting leaders of the local black community, asking for a meeting -- private or public, whichever they preferred -- in order for my daughter to offer her genuine, heartfelt apology.

Beyond that, the other meaningful punishment I'd seek for my child would be a visit with one or more elderly members of the black community -- people who would be able to offer her a little perspective on the history of that word she found so very amusing.

They could tell my daughter what high school was like for them, how they couldn't use the same drinking fountains or restrooms that her grandparents did -- if, that is, they could even attend the same high school.

They could explain to her how that word was widely used in the not-too-distant past to deny an entire group of people many of the basic freedoms available to the rest of America. How they couldn't vote -- or live in the same neighborhood or eat in the same restaurants or shop at the same stores -- because they didn't look like her.

Finally, they could break the news to my daughter that, unlike her, it didn't matter how pretty or peppy or popular they were. They could never hope to be cheerleaders.

All because of that hilarious little N-word.

And we haven't even gotten to those who were beaten or lynched or blown up or shot, for no other reason than the color of their skin.

At some point in all of this, I'd hope my daughter would begin crying inconsolably. That she'd just keep saying, over and over, "I'm so very, very sorry."

And then, after the tears and apologies and eventual recognition of what she had really done, I'd hope these wise elders would wrap their black arms around her white neck and tell her that they forgive her. That they love her. And that they hope she can learn to love them back.

As vile as this video was, I wish nothing but the best for these five teenage girls. I hope they find a career, a family and all the happiness their hearts can hold. And I hope this one foolish mistake doesn't subject them to the same sort of cultural cruelties the people they disrespected have faced for centuries.

That thing said backward on the video can never be unsaid. But these girls can spend the rest of their lives trying to make up for it, becoming fierce advocates for racial equality.

Granted, all of us have a constitutionally protected right to utter a word that is so stupid, ugly and hateful that it can't even be written here. But when we truly understand the ramifications of the N-word and its terrible history, we realize that just because we can use a word doesn't mean we should use it.

Forward or backward.

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.


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