Student disciplined for wearing Obama mask, carrying KFC bucket
Two weeks ago, a Franklin-Regional Middle School student arrived at a basketball game wearing an Obama mask and carrying an empty container of Kentucky Fried Chicken. The student came to cheer for his home team who was playing against Woodland Hills, a school district with a large black population (Approximately one percent of Franklin-Regional students are black, according to the AP). According to Emery D’Arcangelo, Superintendent at Franklin-Regional, the student was trying to make a joke but used poor judgment.
“Our administrators reacted immediately and handled the situation appropriately,” D’Arcangelo told the Murrysville Star last week. The Superintendent went on to say that the incident had been addressed according to district policy, but did not elaborate on punishment. Franklin-Regional Middle School’s assistant principal, Ron Suvak, contacted Woodland Hills officials and offered an apology on behalf of the district.
While this student’s actions are obviously in poor taste, the incident has larger significance because it tugs at an old wound.
Both districts are located in Pittsburgh’s Eastern Suburbs, but Franklin-Regional’s student body hails from Murrysville, a smaller, more affluent community. Woodland Hills, however, brings together students from a broad pool of neighborhoods spread across a much larger geographic/socioeconomic area. And as a district, it was formed out of the ashes of racial controversy. Following a 1981 court ruling that cited educational inequalities based on race, the creation of Woodland Hills School District was mandated. Under this ruling, the lower-income boroughs of Rankin, Braddock, North Braddock, Turtle Creek, and East Pittsburgh were merged with the affluent neighborhoods of Edgewood and Churchhill to form Woodland Hills School District. The ruling did not sit well with many residents in Edgewood and Churchhill. In fact, it led many of those families to relocate throughout the 1980s and 1990s, moving further east to affluent, middle-class communities such as Murrysville (Franklin-Regional schools), Monroeville, and Plum.
It’s this complicated history that makes the Obama mask/KFC bucket prank so awkward and jarring. Are this student’s actions racially charged? Of course. But does the student even understand what that means? Did he realize the ignorance of the racial stereotype he was propagating with his prank? I imagine not. Was he aware of the delicate history of racial tension in the eastern suburbs? Of course not. But if anything, this incident is indicative of how bizarre and delicate race relations are in America. It’s easy to jump on an incident like this and cry racism. But it’s far more difficult to look at what this says about us collectively, as friends and neighbors.