High School Pulls Newspaper

Copies of a Los Angeles high school newspaper were pulled from shelves and apologies were issued after an anonymous article compared predominantly black students at a local restaurant to “a pack of monkeys.” In the aftermath, it appears the students on the paper learned a valuable lesson in responsible journalism. According to an article in Editor and Publisher:

“Carson High School officials withdrew copies of this month's newspaper, letters of apology were sent home to parents, and principal Kenneth Keener apologized over the public address system.”

From the article published in Editor and Publisher, it appears that the student article was a product of high school politics – a combination of teenage angst, the “in” crowd vs. everyone else, and a sheltered inferiority complex. But that means its contents no less inflammatory.

“The article, which was titled "Looks like the circus is in town," appeared on the editorial page of the issue distributed Tuesday. It appeared under the column title "Rambling Rogue," which is written anonymously each month by one of the paper's top editors.”

“The piece described raucous and impolite behavior at a nearby Taco Bell: "When I go to Taco Bell, I want to go to a restaurant, NOT A ZOO! Stop acting like animals... behave and clean up after yourself." The writer said most of the crowd was black and described the students as stupid, rude, immature and insensitive.”

This case demonstrates the need for responsible journalism – even on the high school level. (Especially since it’s very likely that the school newspaper is funded by public tax dollars.) The student who wrote the piece may remain anonymous, but the school did the responsible thing by publicly apologizing for the piece. If the students working on the paper haven’t been soured by the whole experience, one can only hope it helps them become more aware, socially-conscious reporters.

Conor Friedersdorf @ November 25, 2006 - 6:24pm

I think this case is -- or at least might be -- a bit more complicated.

It seems to me that the student editorial is offensive because it is using a stereotype that has historically been used to demean black people. If someone described a group of non-black students as acting like animals by litering, etc. we wouldn't take offense, because there isn't any history of demeaning other groups using that particular metaphor.

Likewise, if the editorial would've described the mostly black students misbehaving at Taco Bell as, for example, "rowdy as a bunch of sailors on sea leave," no one would've taken offense, though the editorial would've been trying to communicate the same substance: that the students were being rude, rowdy, etc.

So here's the core question: should the students on the newspaper have been expected to know the sordid history of comparing black people to animals?

I don't know the answer.

As a high school student I'm pretty sure I knew that history. Then again, the farther we get from the days when metaphors like that were routinely used to diminish black people, the fewer the students who will be aware of it.

And that's a good thing in a way, as much as we'd all like people to be historically knowledgeable and culturally sensitive.

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