Published 6/10/2020| Reading Time 5 minutes 40 seconds
By Autumn Brown, Senior Writer
Sunday afternoon, as I packed and prepared to leave Tulsa, Oklahoma, I fully intended on engaging in radical self-care while binge-watching 90-day fiance. Instead, when I opened my Facebook application, I had been tagged in a post in which YET ANOTHER Mid-Del public school teacher, Kemper Rigg, was caught spewing racial rhetoric toward the black community.
Y’all, I’m tired.
I’m tired of individuals with racist agendas entrusted with the task of educating our youth.
Frankly, I’m tired of Mid-Del public schools refusing to address the insidious problem that exists throughout their district.
But before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that there are some phenomenal teachers in the district, some of which are longtime friends. My father, who was a Mid-Del educator for over 40 years, included.
My dad’s experience in the district, wrought with racial occurrences, includes the fact that district officials turned their backs on him as a coach. So the racial undertones that exist within Mid-Del are no stranger to my family or me.
Mr. Rigg, Jarman Middle School Science teacher, made statements like, “Reverse racism is real, looters are real, good cops are real, white privilege doesn’t affect everyone. Can we stop the shit and call this what it really is. Black privilege and looters.”
He says, “Nothing else can be mentioned because 200+ years ago black people were owned as slaves. They always fall back on that. They’re constantly spouting white privilege and trying to blame EVERYONE for their problems. Get off their asses, go to a college, and become something.”
Stupidly, he adds, “Speaking of colleges, do you see an all-white college? HELL NO, that’d be racist, but there are certainly all-black colleges!”
Since Oklahoma adopted the Territorial School Code of 1897, mandated by law were segregated schools; in 1907, Oklahoma approved the state’s constitution, upholding segregation.
Oklahoma law since statehood necessitated a need for black colleges, or HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities).
Privilege is the mere thought that all white colleges do not exist. One could step onto the campus of Oklahoma State University (OSU) or the University of Oklahoma (OU) and see that while not kept out legally, black students remain the minority, and the campus is still predominantly white.
Additionally, when fraternities such as OU’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) repeat racist chants or professors on the campus use the N-word during lectures, or when white students find joy in rocking blackface, we see that we are still not welcome.
Mr. Rigg disgustingly ends his rant by saying, “I’m tired of black people causing so much shit! Especially blaming me because I’m white. Get over it [or] go back to Africa.”
Mr. Rigg, how about YOU go back to the unemployment office because you don’t deserve the right to stand before any child, especially black children, spewing such racist ideology.
Superintendent Dr. Rick Cobb responded with a statement through the district’s Facebook page. He says, “We expect all of our staff to embrace the diversity of our district and support the families we serve.”
We expect, not we require. And therein lies the problem.
I reached out to Dr. Cobb, as well as Lynette Brown (Jarman Head Principal), Mike Sutton (Assistant Principal), and Rene Frolich (Assistant Principal), to which I did not receive a response.
At this point, I am sure that Mid-Del refuses to acknowledge that within their district are bigoted individuals with skewed perceptions of the black community. Further, in the district’s released statement, they use the word expect, signaling that anti-racist faculty and staff are not a requirement.
I also question the authenticity of the statement. Mr. Rigg’s comments went viral on social media with an outpour of community members informing the district officials about the incident.
Though, I ask, where was a released statement when Mary Foote used the N-word in her class at Kerr Middle School?
Or when a Del Crest Middle School teacher used the word against a black student?
Mid-Del’s choice to cherry-pick this incident to speak out on, while sweeping other similar occurrences under the rug, indicates that unless held to the fire by stakeholders and community members, they are willing to ignore exploitative happenings against black students.
I pulled some statements from parents and community members in response to the district’s report:
“What my child went through repeatedly has caused me to seriously entertain removing him as well as his brother for not only their physical safety and health but their mental health and safety also. A thorough investigation needs to take place in this district […] you are NOT prepared to address the mental safety when it comes to racism within your staff.”
Another person adds, “I will also say this, the only way things can be rectified is if people begin to speak up. I am a graduate of Mid-Del. I know racism existed when I went there, but I graduated 17 years ago.”
What does it say when triggers are still present within 30 something-year-olds by past racialized experiences taking place in this district?
Another parent spoke out about her child’s experience with Mr. Rigg stating, “He called my son ‘stupid.’ We had a meeting with the principal, and I doubt he even got much in the way of admonishment for that. My son has told me very clearly that this teacher mistreated black children in the class.”
This statement brings up another severe and immediate issue that the public must push the district to address: white faculty and the criminalization of black students.
And I can speak on this subject with a very personal experience that corroborates such an accusation.
I attended Carl Albert Middle School under Principal Joyce Honey. When I was in 7th grade, one of my peers thought it was funny to throw runts at my head, while the teacher sat there like a mute. After asking her to stop multiple times, in which case she didn’t, I slammed her head against the bench.
Though I take full responsibility for my actions, Principal Honey began her mission in labeling me a troublemaker, while viewed as the victim was the white student.
Three days of After School Detention (ASD) was my punishment, while the white student didn’t even get so much as a stern talking. Beyond that was a slew of occurrences that steadily landed me in the principal’s office. Honey took away my right to use the office phone–she said that every time I used it, my parents were coming up to the school and challenging her.
Honey also threatened to revoke my transfer, as if Carl Albert was the end all be all in the field of education, and I was the lucky negro pushing my luck.
I recount my experience because I see now that Honey was doing everything in her power to criminalize my behavior and label me as a troublemaker. Luckily, I had two parents who challenged her at every turn.
After a year, she finally gave up her campaign to push me out. As I matriculated through Carl Albert Middle and High School, I went on to earn an Academic Letter Jacket. I graduated as a valedictorian with a GPA above 4.0 and never saw the inside of a principals office again.
Though I wonder, how many other black classmates lost this battle with Mrs. Honey, and still harbor educational trauma stemming from similar occurrences as mine?
I challenge Mid-Del to address the culture within the district. Black students make up 30 percent in this district, and 29.5 percent at Jarman Middle School. I wonder what percent of black students make up the total number of discipline referrals throughout the district.
Perhaps if hit in the pocket with a class action lawsuit, Mid-Del will better address racial microaggressions. How many other “Mr. Rigg’s” exist in the district, handing out harsher discipline among black students? And when will Mid-Del finally live up to its mission of providing “safe, challenged, and ready” schools?
Mr. Rigg’s comments pulled a string that will soon unweave the entire tapestry within Mid-Del. Mid-Del schools have become a haven for individuals who hold racial animosity against students and numerous stakeholders because of their race. We cannot let up, and allow district officials to pacify such racial occurrences. And we cannot accept half-assed statements created under pressure from the community.
Black students deserve to feel safe and like they have a voice. Thankfully, mine was not taken away by bias and misjudgment. Until the district reaches a proper resolution, I will continue to use it to pressure district administrators.
Autumn Brown is a doctoral student in social foundations of education at Oklahoma State University. Social foundations analyzes and explains educational issues, policies, and practices through the lenses of history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and cultural studies. Its goal is to improve the educational experiences for members belonging to marginalized groups. Her research focus centers around the experiences of black women in STEM and black women within the academy. She also researches racial body politics, sexuality, and intimate justice for black women. She has published a book chapter titled “Breaking the silence: Black women’s experience with abortion,” and has presented her work on the intense policing of the black female body nationally. Autumn plans on continuing her pursuits in bringing awareness to the injustices imposed on members within her community, and advocating for equitable education for black and brown students. She plans on finishing her Ph.D. in May 2020 and hopes to move into a tenure-tracked faculty position at a top tier research university.