The Oppressed becomes the Oppressor.
No mention of the black Civil Rights struggles of the nineteen-fifties and sixties is complete without a reference to the bravery and determination of the Little Rock Nine. For those unfamiliar with the story, the Little Rock Nine were the first African-American students to attempt enrollment in the segregated Little Rock High School in 1957. The images of the mass of white students shouting racial abuse at them as they enter the school have become almost iconic and are a portent of the abuse they would experience throughout the ensuing school year.
In the year following their enrollment the nine faced continual and repeated harrassment as well as physical abuse and intimidation. One of the nine, Minnie Jean Brown Trickey , after enduring repeated harrassment and abuse was suspended and subsequently expelled for calling one of her tormentors "white trash". Carlotta Walls Lanier was spat on and regularly harrassed by white students. The studious and quiet Jefferson A. Thomas was heavily targeted by bullies. Gloria Cecilia Ray Karlmark was especially targeted by bullies and was jostled, pushed and physically intimidated by white students. Melba Patillo Beals had acid thrown into her face. All of the nine faced daily harrowing abuse, bullying, physical intimidation and violence. All the while the Administrative and teaching staff permitted the violence to continue unabated.
Because of their endurance and bravery, the story of the Little Rock Nine has empowered subsequent generations of the dispossessed and disempowered. All of the nine went on to be successfull in their fields and themselves became community activists. How painful, then, must be the realization that one of the main lessons learned by some of the heirs to the struggle for equality is how to be oppressors.
It's something of a clichè to write that history repeats itself, yet, the ongoing violence and harrassment of Asian students at the hands of the descendants of the Civil Rights movement in South Philly High school proves that this age-old wisdom is sometimes true. As readers may know, the Asian student body at South Philly High School has been involved in an ongoing judicial struggle to have their grievances appropriately addressed by school authorities, who have so far apparently pursued a policy of denial and dishonesty in order to avoid upholding the civil (and human) rights of their Asian students. At the school, students of Asian descent have reported repeated racial baiting, harrassment, intimidation and physical violence all under the watchful indifference of school staff.
It's therefore the greatest irony that Federal investigators have found merit in the complaints of the Asian student body on the anniversary of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. The similarities in the experiences of the Little Rock Nine and the Asian students are remarkable. Just like the Little Rock Nine, the Asian students at South Philly want to better themselves through education and hard work. Unfortunately, also like the Little Rock Nine, the Asian student body is being abused by an ignorant group of students whose violence and intimidation has been (allegedly) repeatedly ignored by school authorities. Sadly, on the anniversary of King's speech that inspired oppressed people throughout the world, the heirs to his legacy have been called to address their own oppression of a weaker minority.
Does the King still have clothes?
H/T Masir Jones at Destroy & Rebuild