'Wigger Day' scandal isn't simple as black and white

A Minnesota high school is being sued after allowing its spirit week to be transformed from a playful homecoming celebration to a maybe unintentional but still offensive display of a how lack of institutional control and simple racial ignorance can cause big problems.

The weird thing about traditions is how unscathed they are.

No matter how crude, dated, unnecessary and insensitive many of them are, when an outside party attempts to point out how absurd they are, they are fiercely defended. Some are admittedly harmless. Throwing on an Afro wig or wearing your favorite college’s colors are pretty par for the course. Some, like backwards day at my high school, push the envelope by allowing students to put a twist on what was originally intended.

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Wearing pants backwards didn’t resonate with the class of 2004 like it did with the classes of the early 1990s. By 2004 backwards essentially meant cross-dressing and more students than you’d believe were enthusiastically borrowing their girlfriends’ clothes.

Strange for sure but ultimately a light-hearted gesture.

That same sort of shift was part of the problem with what transpired at Red Wing High School in 2009.

What had traditionally been tropical day on Wednesday during spirit week overtime had become ‘Wednesday Wigger Day’ at the high school. The novelty of an ironic day dedicated to dressing warm when battling through a brisk fall in the Midwest is tame enough but stale to students who can only play out the Jay-Z, “Hawaiian Sophie” look so many different ways.

Imitation is supposed to be flattering but when students decided to turn the tables and start emulating their favorite black athletes and rappers, they not only reinforced stereotypes and portrayed caricatures of black culture, they may not have been wise enough to realize how wrong they were. What’s worse, the adults who should’ve been able to step in and at the very least create some sort of disciplinary action for this portrayal instead condoned it by doing nothing at all.

But why? Chalking up their nonchalant attitudes as racist seems too easy, too much of a blanket statement. What if it is simply ignorance and a lack of exposure?
Red Wing High School is only 3 percent black. Meaning the bulk of their exposure to black people is their handful of classmates and an overwhelmingly unflattering and warped view of the culture presented by the media.

That doesn’t negate the legitimacy of Quera Pruitt’s lawsuit demanding $75,000 dollars in damages from the school district. Red Wing is still responsible for making an educational environment so uncomfortable for one of their students that she seriously considered dropping out but responded to the claim by saying, “The district denies the allegations that it has created a racially hostile environment and looks forward to meeting these allegations in court.”

Pruitt’s lawyer Joshua Williams argues out, ”’Wigger Day’ is the same thing as ‘ni**er day.’ ”

Pruitt feels it was the school district’s duty to stop this from happening again. “They didn’t address ‘wigger day’ in any kind of meaningful way.”

I’d have to agree with Williams. Then again, could Red Wing actually argue they just didn’t know? And if they can successfully do that, who do we blame for them assuming no one would mind? Sadly, that could turn the mirror back on us as a culture to be more thoughtful as to what we actually present.

This was their backwards day. The baggy pants, wife beaters, du-rags, oversized shirts and jerseys aren’t the proudest depictions of black culture but for them it is so foreign to their day-to-day that it struck them as funny. They most likely haven’t seen enough examples of successful black people who didn’t fit into that mold and they have nothing challenging them to seek out those images. For as powerful as President Barack Obama is, even he can be overshadowed when the prevailing image of an entire community is nothing like its most positive example.

Imagine if a predominantly black high school decided to have ‘White Kid Wednesday’ during spirit week. Fox News would be incensed with visuals of black teens mockingly wearing stereotypically white clichés.

But like most traditions go, this one is being defended. Still, it’ll probably happen again because ignorance is bliss and kids will be kids, right?