Congratulations, Flower Mound, Texas, you have become the caricature the nation imagines when they they think of backward southern towns where high schoolers hold up white power signs.
Flower Mound is also where I grew up. Technically, I grew up on the border of Flower Mound and the less affluent suburb it shares a school district with, Lewisville. I went to Lewisville High School, where most students come from lower socioeconomic situations than their peers in Flower Mound. Lewisville also has a much more racially diverse population than the two Flower Mound schools, and it seems to function with what I have always thought to be a surprising level of harmony.
Right now people across the country are reading about Flower Mound, TX through a lens with little context, but I have some. In 2007, my senior year at Lewisville High School, I attended a basketball game at the other high school in Flower Mound. We were the visiting team, and in the 4th quarter of the game a chant began from the home crowd referring to us as “welfare babies.” Note that the majority of LHS is not classified as economically disadvantaged, but what if they were? In that moment a value judgement was relayed, that having less money somehow makes people less worthy of respect, or less human. The chant went on long enough for everyone in the gym to understand what was happening, and for tension to build between the crowd. Adults were able to stop the chanting soon after, but from what I can remember no real consequences ever came of that, and I know that similar situations continue to happen at games between Lewisville and Flower Mound schools to this day. That is my context.
Within Lewisville Independent School District, and probably in many suburban communities in America, there is a problem with how students perceive themselves in terms of race and class. Parents in Flower Mound and surrounding similarly affluent communities openly discuss disdain for Lewisville High School and schools like it based primarily upon incorrect assumptions about the student body. The result of those openly classist and indirectly racist sentiments too often take the form of kids who believe that because their parents have money they somehow deserve to act in whatever manner they see fit.
I understand that what happened to the Plano East team’s bus remains unverified, but if FMHS students did indeed defecate on a bus, that behavior transcends the realm of acceptable teenage rebellion and enters the territory of behavior requiring immediate attention. That action specifically shows not only malice, but a deeper misunderstanding of humanity. Did the students consider the person who would have to clean up the human feces they left behind, or did that person not even cross their minds because they think a person responsible for cleaning a bus is only there to service them? It is not hard to crack a 16-year-old, so in my view LISD and FMHS need to get to the bottom of this immediately. If the bus incident was indeed perpetrated by FMHS students they should be responsible for cleaning buses for the rest of the year in addition to apologizing to the person or people who had to clean up their barbaric mess. There must be actionable consequences for situations like these or they will continue.
The reason history is a subject for human study is for the hope that humanity will not repeat its mistakes. I don’t think the kids from Flower Mound should be expelled, or otherwise shamed beyond cleaning buses and having to formally apologize. I do think this is a time to reflect on how we understand the historical context of the world we live in, and how that effects the youngest members of our society. I don’t blame the students for not understanding the gravity of a white power sign because it is likely they have only been exposed to a surface-level history of racism and the continued struggle for civil rights in America. It is that ignorance that turned this high school prank into something more sinister.
My fear is that people in the community will view this situation as a one-off that occurred in a vacuum. But contrary to Rush Limbaugh’s recent comment that racism under Jim Crow happened “a thousand years ago” (it was 50), racism in America is very much an open wound. For all those FMHS students may not know about what happened in this country just 50 years ago, someone’s family-member in the stands may very well remember when white supremacy justified the segregation that would have made a game between these two schools impossible.
I know that Flower Mound is not the caricature of itself the latest action by a few FMHS students suggests — Flower Mound High School alone is home to 31 of the school district’s 59 National Merit Finalists. I also know that there are people in that community — white, black, yellow, and brown — who support one another because I am a product of that. The problem is that although there is often acceptance there is not also a willingness to engage with certain uncomfortable truths, and unfortunately that means we are all trapped by the weight of our past, rather than the hope for a more unified future.