Tuesday, May 25, 2004

The White Peril

Regular readers may recall my concern that the Latino-bashing that arose in last fall's California recall election had the potential to provoke serious racial tensions and ultimately violence.

Now, out of the San Diego area comes an extremely disturbing story that fits into a pattern I've been seeing with potentially far-reaching implications:
A growing racial divide at Temescal Canyon

In the 10 days since a campus melee and fights erupted at Temescal Canyon High School, the racial and ethnic divides separating many students have grown even wider, more than a dozen students said last week.

Several parents say that the racial tensions and the fights have them very concerned that even greater violence may lie ahead.

On May 12, two fights broke out between Latino and white students in the lunch area and hundreds of students then were caught up in a melee, with many throwing bottles, cans and food at one another. Twelve sheriff's deputies and school officials dispersed the crowd.

The following day -- even with 18 deputies patrolling campus -- two more fights broke out, as racial slurs flew between Latino and white students. As a result of the two days of fighting, 18 students have been suspended and eight of them are facing expulsion. No one was arrested on either of the two days, but sheriff's officials said they would be asking the district attorney's office to file battery charges against three boys and possibly against two girls.

Noteworthy is the fact that the "Iron Cross" wear favored, rather innocuously, by skateboarder types all around the country have been converted, in this case at least, into a symbol for white supremacy and real suggestions of neo-Nazi ideological sentiments:
Ryan Canada, 16, was hanging out with a group of other white students during the first of two lunch periods last week. Canada sports close-cropped hair and on Wednesday was wearing a T-shirt with a logo based on the German Iron Cross emblazoned on the front. He said that since the fights, more white students are changing their dress habits as an expression of solidarity with other white students.

"A lot of people are starting to wear (T-shirts with) Iron Crosses and shave their heads," he said. First used as a military decoration in Prussia in the early 1800s, Adolf Hitler restored the award in 1939. Some Latino students say they associate the Iron Cross with white-power groups on campus.

Canada's friend Nathan Hudson, 17, was also wearing a T-shirt with an Iron Cross logo. He agreed that more students -- Latinos and whites -- are gravitating toward groups of their own race or ethnicity.

"There's a lot more whites by themselves and Hispanics by themselves," he said.

But the most significant concern is that the increasing tension and the outbreak of violence in this and neighboring schools appear to have been largely provoked by whites uttering racial slurs and expressing white-supremacist views:
Last September, racial conflict erupted at Elsinore High School when a group of white students carried an American flag onto campus on a pole with inscriptions of swastikas and markings associated with white supremacy.

Students reported the white students marched up and down in front of Latino students at lunch and the Latino students threw food at them. Those incidents followed what some students said were several fights between Latinos and whites on the Wildomar campus in the previous school year.

The immediate trigger for the recent Temescal Canyon fights was a racial slur. Witnesses said that a Latino boy and his girlfriend were walking through the lunch area at noon on May 12. The girl was singing in Spanish when a white boy yelled at her to shut up, using a profanity and a racial slur, said two students who witnessed the confrontation. The Latino boy and the white boy began fighting and another fight and the melee quickly followed, witnesses said.

It's important to observe that a number of racially charged incidents elsewhere -- from Ithaca, Orangetown and Saranac, all in New York, to Newark, Ohio, to Arlington, Washington and Sacramento, Calif. -- have all involved increasing racial tensions in the nation's high schools.

And in the vast majority of these incidents, the tensions have been spurred by the fresh appearance of white-supremacist ideology among the young people involved.

The reason this is an important harbinger, of course, is that these teenagers not only portend rising trends, they also reflect the kinds of sentiments that are being promoted in the larger body politic. White supremacy, these incidents clearly suggest, is being quietly pushed from the fringes toward the center of our national discourse -- which may be the most disturbing trend of them all.

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