On Jan. 11, four students at Washburn HS in South Minneapolis hung a dark-skinned doll from a rope in a school stairwell, took pictures of it and posted the images to social networking websites.

As the image and word of the incident spread to news outlets, Washburn went public saying the school was disciplining four students.

Students I spoke to say the four students involved did not intend to make a racist threat or statement, that is was simply in their words “a dumb prank.” Students seemed surprised at the attention, not only from the news media, but from the school as well.

While the Minneapolis School District is not commenting on the nature of the punishments, a half-dozen students told me one boys was expelled and at least two other students were suspended. All the students I spoke with thought the punishment was too harsh, that the incident was not really as “big a deal” as everyone was making it out to be.

What students I spoke with did not seem to understand is the historical context of such an image — that hanging a doll or figure in effigy has been seen for decades as a threat, a warning of some kind of act to come.

There seemed to be no understanding among the students I spoke with that this type of image could be a source of fear and intimidation. Obviously, I did not speak to every student. But that lack of context, that lack of perspective on this nation’s not-too-distant, and distinctly ugly past is troubling.

The school district said the students involved will be subjected to some form of restorative punishment. Hopefully that will include a history lesson for all students on why a black doll hanging by a rope is, in fact, a very big deal.


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