History has an unfunny way of repeating itself.
Once again, white students have taken it upon themselves to use Black culture as “Dress Up Day” while also continuing to associate said culture with the highly racialized word “thug.” And it wasn’t the first time, according to current and former students at Memorial High School in Houston.
On Monday, 11th-grade Memorial High students wore sports jerseys as part of a theme for what was reportedly dubbed “thug” day. A week of theme days to celebrate rising seniors has been a tradition at the school for several years. But some students have begun adding questionable accessories to their outfits that scream of racism. Several now viral photos popped up on social media showing white students wearing cornrows, fake tattoos, bandannas, gold chains, du-rags and more. In the pictures, some of them posed shamelessly holding up hand signs.
“Memorial High School’s “thug” day for rising senior spirit week… yes this ACTUALLY happened TODAY at an actual high school but y’all keep saying “racism isnt a problem anymore”… right alright,” one Twitter user wrote.
Another Twitter user wrote, “Black kids get kicked out of school for the day until they take out their braids or take off their durags or sometimes suspended. But suddenly when white kids do it it’s fine. Hmmm seems white. Cultural appropriation at its finest.”
Others said the students had a right to express themselves and that people were overreacting.
“Look, I think it was an over-reaction by people,” said Todd Forbes, who graduated from Memorial High School in the early 1980’s, told the Houston Chronicle. “I think it might’ve been inappropriate, but the school over-reacted, too. And if that’s racist, then I must be missing something.”
Heavy reported that this was not the first time students used the jersey-themed day for its so-called “Thug Day.” Time-stamped pictures go back to at least 2015 showing the same. Former students have also noted the past themes of “Swag Day” and “Senioritas Day” also caused tension at the school.
Black students criticized the school for only releasing a statement this time around because they were getting national attention.
“As a black student I am already not represented well at my school,” junior Laura Fields told the Huffington Post. “To see these events happen on Tuesday deeply offended and saddened me. I couldn’t grasp how the staff could let this happen again after years of the same thing.”
Memorial High School released a statement regarding the pictures claiming that “Thug Day” was not authorized by school officials and deemed the students’ actions as “inappropriate.”
“On Tuesday, some rising juniors wore inappropriate dress and body/hair decorations as part of an alternative, unapproved response to the theme day,” the statement read. “As a shared expectation about the theme was clearly violated, MHS has cancelled all remaining dress theme days for the remainder of this week. Students found to be in violation of the Student Code of Conduct and dress code will be given a consequence.”
While the quote referenced rising juniors, it was actually juniors who were set to become seniors next school year.
With the community being aware of apparent racism at the high school even before this incident, the Houston Chapter of the NAACP has called on the school to do more than just release a statement.
“They need to do more than make a statement,” Houston NAACP President James Douglas said. “They need to have some training programs for these students to make them understand what it is like to live in a racial society. And why what they did was harmful to other people.”