Clintonville High School is not racist

Full disclosure: In a previous life (and by that, I mean about a month ago), I was a newspaper editor in charge of covering Clintonville news and high school athletics.

Generally this space is reserved to discuss my ongoing sports gambling addiction and other non-important college football things, but I’ve got to defend my people in Clintonville, Wisconsin. If you have not seen the news that is going viral today, a video came out from a dance-off during a pep rally at Clintonville High School with four students performing a Native American tribal dance.

After a social media stampede that included people across the country declaring an entire school district racist based on a 30-second video, the rest of the high school’s homecoming activities were canceled including the parade and football game. It was later announced the dance would be postponed “because of safety concerns.” I’ve seen rumors on social media there were threats made toward the school.

For you to believe these students are just totally racist, which by the way, teenagers make mistakes. I am not all that intelligent even now, but I have never been dumber than when I was a teenager. It’s why we wipe criminal records clean the day kids become adults.

But for you to think these four kids are racist, you have to think they went out of their way and said, “Hey, let’s go out and do this dance because we have no respect for the Native American people.” Do we really think that’s the most likely scenario? Intent should matter.

Then to say the Clintonville High School staff and administration are racist is just as ridiculous. The school district has an annual Diversity Day where instead of holding regular class, students and staff participate in breakout sessions to learn about different cultures. It’s an awesome event I was able to cover the last few years.

To end one of the Diversity Days, Native Americans showed up to talk about their culture and did so by focusing on the traditional dances they perform. They even invited Clintonville High School students and staff to come down on to the gym floor to join them in the exact spot as the video people are talking about today.

At no point did it seem like there was this idea of, “Hey, here’s this fun celebration that is important to our culture. Join us, learn the dances and have fun, but never do this again for the rest of your life or you will be looked at as a horrible person.”

Why do we continue to just assume the worst about people? Of course there are racist people out there, and they are crazy. To hate another person because of their skin color or ethnic group makes you an insane individual. Nobody should dispute that, but Clintonville High School is not a racist place.

29 thoughts on “Clintonville High School is not racist

  1. Thank you for this. We are hurting here as a community. The kids had to go through a very scary day yesterday and no one realizes. The threats were very real & the kids were scared. Enough to cause lockdowns on all of our schools here. They are good kids, with good intentions. We are a great community that loves all people.

    1. I agree, Erin. Thank you for reaching out. I enjoyed my 3 years covering the Clintonville community and know the high school is not a bad place.

  2. Erik, Thank you for your support and helping tell our story. Your previous coverage of our school and community events is deeply appreciated.

    1. Appreciate it, David. Clintonville is a good place with good students, good staff and good administration. It’s more than a 30-second video clip.

  3. Perfectly spoken and spot-on. I’m going to throw this out there … watching the video, I did not feel the boys were mocking at all. Zero racism. I saw rhythm through movement. They didn’t dress up in a mocking way nor were their movements exaggerated, no foul language, etc. I’m personally disgusted our district leaders caved and have lost much respect for them because of it. Ya’ll don’t see ppl getting this bent out of shape over hip-hop … for example. And for many NA’s to retaliate by threatening to shoot up our school or scalp students is beyond acceptable. Who is really spreading hate here? Clintonville is not a racist place. I totally agree, Erik.

  4. Does anyone really think they’d turn around and admit the actions can be deemed as racist, and mocking indigenous peoples?
    Get your head out of your rear end, for crying out loud!!!
    Cultural assimilation is not acceptable. Mocking cultural aspects of others is also, not acceptable.
    Next, you’ll be “blacking up” like your comedian of a prime minister!!!

    1. Yo Simon. Where do you think Clintonville is man? That statement just makes it seem like you didn’t even look into the story and just immediately went into Social Justice Warrior mode.

  5. Thank you for sharing your views about Clintonville. I feel those boys did not intentionally do a dance to hurt anyone. Watch TV and you see a war dance before Tribes went to fight. So I think these boys wanted to display that their football game is a fight to win and used the dance for that purpose. They didn’t think about racism. The media played a big role in blowing this out of proportion

  6. There are racist comments and actions that are deplorable. This doesn’t even come close. I don’t think for one minute that these kids had a racist thought in their heads when they did this dance. And to make the whole school ‘pay for it is really not fair. This whole incident was blown out of proportion. Let’s remember that they were recently shown Native American dances and students and facility were invited to participate. Being of Norwegian heritage, I guess I should get upset when I hear an Ole and Lena joke. Let me be clear, I am appalled by the racism being shown in our country today. It makes me sad and angry. But this dance was kids being kids. Talking to them about how it could be taken should have been sufficient.

  7. If you really don’t see how those students dancing can be interpreted as mocking then I don’t know when to tell you.

  8. This has to be the most unbelievably irrational justification I have ever read! To dismiss the actions that were displayed at a pep rally, IN FRONT OF AN ENTIRE SCHOOL and NO ONE STOPPED IT is RIDICULOUS! I only saw the video because my relative shared it and she came across it because the Native American students she works with showed her the video. They were hurt. To be young and made fun of, to have to live a life in today’s society that brings shame and mockery to our traditions, our culture, still, is appalling! Having to watch people who have NO PERSPECTIVE ON THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLE or fully comprehend the prejudice and discrimination we live with still to this day, is absolutely enraging. They may be “just kids” but they look old enough to recognize and understand what they were going to do would not be acceptable to the culture they in fact, did mock. No one is absolutely oblivious to the news today and what has gone on with Native People such as the protest of the pipeline and the incident earlier this year of the young man standing in mockery at an older Native gentleman with his hat that read “make America great again”..I guess everyone who isn’t Native American would justify his actions as well? Open your eyes and educate yourselves. Stop justifying the actions that are clearly WRONG. No one is the exception of such foolery.

  9. Obviously you’re not Native American. Obviously the dance had to be approved through the school, so the school is promoting racism. You can’t tell Native Americans what’s not racist with something like this. That’d be like a white person saying the ‘N Word’, changes the last letter to an A, is a minor… But tell black people it’s not racist.
    You failed.

  10. I think a point that should be made is that people are looking at this from extremes. My grandchildren are Native American and I can tell you that had they been sitting in that gym when this took place they would have been uncomfortable & humiliated. They do dance in Pow Wows in a true Native American way and the way these boys “danced” was making fun of the Native dance. Let’s call a spade a spade- they were making fun- Now does that make them racist - not necessarily- HOWEVER- it was disrespectful & culturally insensitive. My problem with the situation is that no adult stopped it as it was happening & the “dance” went on long enough that it should have been. Where I live we are fortunate to have two Native American communities intertwined into the entire county & school district & this never would have occurred at our school. So my point is… you can’t make a general statement like “the Clintonville school is racist” but your article almost dismisses what happened .. which is to the other extreme. Is the entire Clintonville School District racist- of course not- have they not done a good job of teaching cultural sensitivity- they absolutely haven’t or this wouldn’t have happened in the first place. This should be used as a teaching opportunity which is what I’ve seen local tribes have offered for the school district. That’s what the focus should be on not whether these boys are or are not “racist” but instead this was in poor taste & it should be taken seriously not dismissed.

    1. This is the best comment I’ve read yet. People do tend to take extreme positions when it comes to sensitive issues like race. Some people call everyone & everything racist while other people make excuses & refuse to acknowledge any racism or cultural insensitivity when they exist. We live in a society that simultaneously promotes outrage & apathy. Life is much more nuanced.

  11. Nice spin! Nothing but garbage to make racist people feel better about themselves. Pretty shallow and sad that in 2019 it’s okay to mock another race for your personal entertainment.

    1. Maybe not everyone in that community is racist, however when you live in a community where 93% of your population is white you are bound to have a lot of ignorance and culturally insensitivity. yes, it sucks to be grouped in as all being racist, but as Natives we are grouped all as one thing constantly. We are all drunks, we are all lazy, none of us work etc. etc. and it doesn’t feel good being put in a group where people just judge you based on a small amount of people does it? Everyone, no matters who you are have unknown bias’s. Like if I as a Native American women sees a group of White people with MAGA hats on, I instantly become scared. To a community of white people in this White privileged bubble what would their unknown bias’s of Native Americans be? Look at the hate and fear this community is showing on social media. If these boys were taught this dance, what would make them think it was cool to use it in a dance off, unless trying to make a joke out of it. First we are mocked now we are feared and are causing so much anger from the white community. Clintonville town people are so upset about their precious homecoming “culture” being cancelled, well imagine how Native People feel daily as our culture is constantly treated as a joke, we are told who cares about their feelings, grow a tougher skin, or get over it. So if your upset about your homecoming being canceled do what we are told to do and get over it. If you’re worried about being looked at as being racist don’t write an article so people can share it to prove they aren’t racist. learn from these unfortunate events and do better in the future.

  12. I don’t think the outrage is as much about the kids anymore as it is the way the community reacted… parents, adults, people in the area commenting nothing but excuses and comments like…”that’s why the jails are 90% Indians lol.” “I better not see any colored people doing the chicken dance or the Polka.” As if either of those dances can be compared to a dance ritual and sacred ceremony. That and the faculty doing very little as far as responding with how they’ll prevent this from happening again. Even calling the protesters “clowns.” Which yes…the threats are not okay but a lot of the protesters are Native Americans that are sick of this kind of thing happening, sick of their culture being disrespected, sick of their ceremonies being mocked, sick of being called “pansies” and “easily offended” when they speak out.

    The school may not be racist.. But the way the Clintonville community reacted to the disrespectful mockery that these kids thought was appropriate, because of what they obviously see and hear from their elders, made the whole town look extremely ignorant. Im sad to say the least.

    Enough excuses and denying what has been done. Take responsibility, apologize, educate. That’s the only way to come out of this without looking even worse.

  13. Of course teens make dumb decisions. This was obviously racist, and I believe this wasn’t approved by the school as stated in other reports.

    The question, as others have pointed out, if this wasn’t approved, and obviously wrong/ deplorable, why didn’t any teacher or school admin take action.

    I believe if action was taken by a teacher or admin, the homecoming events would have not been canceled. Yes, the kids were wrong but teachers / admin just as much, if not even more to blame.

  14. These people for some reason don’t think what these kids did were wrong but then again they don’t have a culture so they have no idea. They were taught the pride and love we have for our culture so it’s nothing to them.

  15. I love the attempt to make this place a school full of victims. Take responsibility and be adults. You were in the wrong.

  16. Impact is more important than intent when it comes to racism. It does not matter whether the students knowingly/intentionally did something racist, because regardless of their lack of education on the matter, they still did it. They harmed indigenous people by appropriating/mocking a culture they clearly do not understand. Furthermore, no one stopped them, and the principal, instead of genuinely apologizing and aiming to educate herself and the faculty and students, decided to get offended on behalf of herself and those involved that anyone might think they were *exactly* what they are - racist. You don’t have to intend to do harm in order to be racist. You *do* need to take some damn responsibility for it once you realize it, though.

  17. Zeinert - that was a VERY weak explanation & it CERTAINLY WAS NOT AN APOLOGY for the administration not stepping in IMMEDIATELY when they saw this “dance”!! Do you think it’s going to make life at your school any easier on the Native students by the cancellation??!!! They will probably be BLAMED for it!! Why haven’t these dancing students been expelled for a few weeks - no activities or sports??? And let homecoming celebrations go on without the “dancers”??!!! AND some SERIOUS diversity awareness training needs to happen starting with YOU, your teachers & administration, & then the students immediately!!!

  18. You are all kinds of blind to racism. Are you really that dense that you can’t see/accept the mockery these students present in the video to Native American people. I’m full native and sorry but a white man like you can’t tell us what is and what is not offensive and little white boys making fun of when of our dances is BIG racism and you’re just as bad for defending them. Gross ass high school

  19. Full disclosure, I am a white woman. I have read your opinion and seen the CHS video. I have not read the other comments on this thread however, so this response is not in response to any of them.

    Mr. Buchinger, you write that the students made a “teenage mistake,” that “they did not intend to do something racist” and that “intent should matter.” You also wrote “racist people are crazy.”

    White society has the belief that racism is a matter of good vs. bad. To be racist is to be a “bad” person (or ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced, mean-spirited) and to be non-racist is to be a “good” person (or progressive, educated, open-minded, well-intentioned). You say that Clintonville is “not a racist place” so that must mean the teens, the Clintonville School District, and by extension the community, are “good” people (or friendly, accepting of others and welcoming) and because of this they cannot be and are not racist. Another white belief is that racism has to be a deliberate action done by a “bad” person. Or to say it another way, the dance was not a deliberately racist act so the people involved are not racist. While the students may be very nice people and do not identify as racist, it doesn’t mean their actions were not racist. Intent DOESN’T matter. It doesn’t matter if I intended to say or do something racist, if what I say or do is racist then it’s racist. This does not mean I am a terrible, horrible, or awful white person; it means that I need to learn about why my words or actions were racist and do what I can to repair any harm I may have caused. There are, of course, white people who are terrible, awful and hateful who deliberately say and do racist things because they believe whites are superior but I would like to think that most whites are not deliberate in their racist words or actions. White people get so angry and offended when they are accused of being racist because they see a racist as a deliberate actor, a horrible, evil person and because of this, whites cannot have conversations about our racism. We become defensive and angry and shut down because we have been accused of being racist (racism=bad and I am not bad). It is important to note that it is is not up to me to decide what is racist; I am a white person, I have no idea what it is like to be an Indigenous person, or a person of color. I am not oppressed because of the color of my skin, and because of this fact I have absolutely no right to define what is or is not racist words or actions. If you are not a member of an oppressed group, you cannot define racism.

    Even though the district has a Diversity Day and a member of a local Tribe invited non-indigenous people to dance, it does not give those non-Indigenous people unlimited permission to participate in a traditional dance they, most likely, know nothing or very little about. Do the students who were dancing in the video know why or when tribes dance, or what the traditions and origins of the dances are and what dance were they performing? Before I wrote this response I actually looked up Native American dance traditions because I didn’t know much about it. In the brief research I conducted, I read that when whites participate in traditional Native American Dance, either seriously or mockingly, it takes that tradition away from the Indigenous person/tribe. Remember, Europeans came to this land and tried to either wipe out Indigenous peoples or assimilate them (take away their culture, language, traditions and lands and turn them into white people) so when we “participate” it is like a continuation of assimilation. Why can’t we just let Indigenous people have what is rightfully theirs? In my brief research I also learned that the battle at Wounded Knee started because the U.S. Government was trying to put a stop to Native American dance and other traditions because the government saw no purpose in such “heathen” acts. The Native Americans who fought on that day were standing up for their culture and traditions. I want to end this response by encouraging the teens, the Clintonville School District and community to use this as a learning experience. Ask yourselves, why was this viewed as racist, how can I learn more about why this is racist, how can I repair any harm that I may have intentionally/unintentionally caused, how can I use this experience to help others be aware of their words and actions? Lastly, while Diversity Day is great, our public schools need to teach the TRUE history of the Indigenous people of this land and they need to do it every year, not just during select grades at select times of the year. If this would have been a stronger part of the curriculum from the early elementary years through middle and high school, perhaps these teens would have known that it was racist to have a dance off in this fashion and this wouldn’t even be an issue, unless of course, they had the education and decided to do it anyway. I’m going to guess that they never got the education to begin with. White people, please don’t be angry and offended when you are accused of being racist, find out why the person felt that way and learn so you can change your behavior. If you have read this far, I’d like to recommend the books White Fragility by Robin Dianglo, as well as The Story of Act 31 by JP Leary. I also found interesting information at these two websites.

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