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Brookwood High band members hit jarring note with racial slur


Four members of the Brookwood High School band thought it would be a hoot Friday to spell out the historic racial slur “coon” on the football field at halftime, apparently as part of a Senior Night prank.

The joke didn’t just fall flat; it plummeted to earth in a fiery ball that threatened to singe the reputations of the award-winning marching band and the high-performing Gwinnett County high school. 

After an investigation today, Principal William Bo Ford Jr. released this statement:

As promised, we started an investigation into this matter, and I wanted to share with you our current findings and the steps we are taking with the students who were involved. After extensive interviews with many students, we have determined that three seniors intentionally planned and executed the use of the sousaphone covers to spell out a completely unacceptable, racist term. The fourth student, a junior, who carried one of the letters spelling out the word, appears to have gone along with the plan at the last minute. 

However, all four of the students knew what was going to happen and knew what they were spelling out during the halftime show.

In our interviews, the students-- two of whom are African American, one of whom is Asian, and one of whom is Hispanic -- indicated that this was intended as a joke, one that they thought would be funny. However, they acknowledged that they knew this racist term was not acceptable. We have identified two other students who do not appear to be involved in the planning and execution but did provide false information to school officials. All six of these students will receive discipline consequences commensurate with their involvement in this incident.

It doesn’t matter that the kids involved were minorities. It does not excuse their stupid decision or lessen its impact on those at the game. A crowded football stadium with hundreds of parents and children from Brookwood and from the opposing team, DeKalb County’s Lakeside High, was not the setting for such juvenile and incendiary antics. 

Their action prompted widespread condemnation. It’s also sent some younger folks to the Internet to learn the meaning of “coon,” a slur attributed to several origins, but seems most likely derived from the Spanish and Portuguese word “barracoon,” which referred to the barracks historically used for the temporary confinement of slaves or criminals.

“This is an old racist trope,” said Brookwood parent Travis Jennings, who was so alarmed over the incident that he accompanied his sophomore daughter to school this morning fearful the slur was a prelude to something worse.

Jennings’ older daughter was a member of the band while at Brookwood. She was horrified when she learned about the incident. 

“They say Brookwood is excellent; that it’s very inclusive. But there is an undercurrent of racism and we have to speak out against it,” said Jennings. 

Jennings wrote a letter to school principal in which he said:

As a parent, concerned community member, and taxpayer I am absolutely outraged by the egregious display, during the halftime show, at this Friday’s game by members of the marching band…The term coon is not only disrespectful but one of the most insulting of all black caricatures and is absolutely dehumanizing. Although the Brookwood School community may be diverse, the actions of your students show that the cultural climate of the school is not one of inclusiveness and this must be addressed. This blatant act should not be dismissed as a harmless prank or swept under the rug. 

 

 

 


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.