• Editorial: Combating racism: a shared responsibility
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    Date of publication: Oct. 25, 2017

    The Intelligencer and Courier Times

    What's with the overt acts of racism and hatred in recent months among young people here?

    The racial slurs flung at cheerleaders from Cheltenham High School by Quakertown kids. The swastikas drawn on a bathroom wall at Council Rock High School North. The racist graffiti scribbled on a school sign in the Neshaminy School District and in a bathroom at New Hope-Solebury Middle School.

    They all set off alarms and community action. Marches. Speeches. Apologies.

    It was both heartening and reassuring that folks banded together in a very public way to denounce those ugly and hurtful acts. And it is likewise commendable that schools are redoubling their efforts to educate students about and sensitize them to the impact of racial hatred and ethnic intimidation.

    But what gives? Why did these things happen?

    Bucks County is hardly a bastion of white supremacy, though just 10 percent of the population is comprised of minorities. Unlike other parts of the country, communities here don't have historical or cultural ties to segregation or worse. That's not to say folks don't have their prejudices; they do. But they don't shape public policy. People generally keep those dark thoughts to themselves.

    So these awful incidents wouldn't seem to be an outgrowth of hatred and racism as practiced in homes or rooted in our children's chromosomes. And so we suspect they are the result of much larger and influential events and, to some degree, are copycat in nature. Consider all that young people have witnessed in recent years thanks largely to the cell phones most everybody carries these days.

    We don't mean to pick on police, who risk their lives daily to protect us, but videos of rogue cops beating, tasing, shooting and in some cases killing innocent blacks and other minorities have sparked demonstrations and riots across the nation. Those ugly images of violence and destruction, which packed as much hateful punch as the incidents that produced them, garnered prominent attention from all forms of media.

    Immature adolescent and teenage minds are impressionable. Should we have expected kids to go unaffected by those images?

    Then there's what they hear from the current occupant of the White House.

    Look, we're not looking to excuse young people who engaged in the hateful activities described above. No, they need to be held accountable. But so do the adults who are responsible for overseeing our children's development: parents, teachers, elected and community leaders.

    To that end, we commend school districts that reacted with urgency to the hatred and racism by launching new or bolstering existing programs focused on tolerance and diversity. Commendations as well to The Peace Center in Langhorne, which made staffers available to talk to students and to provide training for teachers.

    The center's message of tolerance and understanding is what we'd expect from people in the peace business. What's impressive beyond those standard lessons is The Peace Center's emphasis on taking action.

    "One of the key things is convincing kids to step in and interrupt incidents of racism and not stay silent," the Peace Center's Barbara Simmons told us. "We want them to have the courage to be upstanders and speak up."

    So should we all.

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