It’s Not Just The ‘Nazi Salute’ — Black Student In Baraboo Says He Hears N-Word ‘All The Time’ [Opinion]

More in the city of Baraboo must be done to ensure ignorance about historical bigotry doesn't remain in place.

A map of south-central Wisconsin, with the city of Baraboo in the center.
atdr / Shutterstock

More in the city of Baraboo must be done to ensure ignorance about historical bigotry doesn't remain in place.

Living in Wisconsin, just an hour away from the city of Baraboo, I’ve been privy to many conversations dealing with the group of students who posed for a photo during prom last spring, holding their hands in the air reminiscent of a Nazi-era gesture.

Per previous reporting from the Inquisitr, the photographer of the photo in question has said that the event was more innocent than people have been led to believe, and that outrage over it is misplaced. “The last picture that I shot, I said, ‘All right boys, you’re on the steps … give me a high sign, a wave that you’re saying goodbye to your parents,'” the photographer said.

A few problems with that assertion come up, however. One student in the front row is flashing a well-known white supremacist “OK” sign, and there are accounts from other students about the incident who say everyone knew what they were doing. Jordan Blue, a student in the corner of the picture not giving the salute, has suggested in interviews that the other boys in the photo saw the Nazi hand gesture as a joke, according to reporting from the Washington Post.

Focus from local and national media have largely been placed on Blue’s comments, but another student, Jonathan Schieber, also deserves attention.

Schieber is the black student seen in the picture on the far right, a couple of rows below Blue. While the original tweet that sparked the initial outrage included the caption, “We even got the black kid to throw it up,” it’s unclear if Schieber is actually doing so if you look closely at the image. He maintains he did not.

“You can clearly see in the picture my hands is to my side,” Schieber said, according to reports from WISN. “I was minding my own business doing my own thing. I wasn’t even looking at the camera.”

Schieber says he wasn’t paying attention at the moment the camera clicked its lens. Yet he has noted several instances of bigotry in the hallways of Baraboo’s schools, including racial epithets that deserve rightful condemnation. “People are making jokes all the time,” Schieber said. “Like, throughout middle school, people [were] slinging the ‘N-word’ with the hard ‘r’. You really just have to drown people out.”

The problem was so pervasive that Schieber had to take measures to ensure he could avoid hearing those terrible words. “I use my headphones in school to drown people out,” he said. Despite these incidents, Schieber doesn’t think the city is inherently racist. But the problem needs urgent attention.

Students should not have to wear headphones to keep hate from hitting their ears. Students should not have to speak out about why it’s wrong to give a Nazi salute, or why they chose not to do so; the answer to that should be obvious. In short, the problem of bigotry, and the student body’s inability to comprehend why it’s wrong, needs to be remedied (and if we’re being totally honest, it’s a problem that exists throughout Wisconsin and the rest of the nation as well.)

One thing that everyone has been asking throughout this whole ordeal, in social media comments I’ve read and conversations I’ve had with others, is who or what is to blame for this whole mess. A small number of people have wrongly suggested to me that those who are outraged by this event are being too sensitive.

If it’s sensitive to find a gesture used by one of the most murderous tyrants this world has ever seen as “offensive,” then I’ll accept being called as such. The word “sensitive” doesn’t offend me in this instance — because we are right to be wary and offended by such a gesture that has become synonymous with genocide and hatred.

Much of the blame belongs to parents and the schools themselves. Research indicates that children aren’t inherently bigoted, according to reporting from Pacific Standard. If these students indeed hold onto these beliefs, they didn’t come out of a vacuum. Another part of the problem here seems to be ignorance, and a failure to inform these students on why exactly their action was so deplorable.

That’s no excuse for this behavior, of course — these high school students, who are now seniors, are about to enter the “real world.” Their behavior and habits, including their ignorance and learned prejudices, are going to direct them and affect others they interact with in the years ahead in ways they cannot yet fathom.

Yet this experience for these young men needs to be a lesson learned for them, and not just one of knowing how to properly behave. A lack in understanding about the insensitive nature of their collective gesture is an outrageous misstep that needs to be corrected, by themselves and by the community at large. But hopefully the students in the photo can grow from this, and do some extracurricular learning on their own to understand (and not simply resent) why their photo sparked such outcry.

There are certainly members of the community who are willing to help. After the photo went viral, several Baraboo citizens came to the very same spot these young men took their photo to rally for “Love, Not Hate,” according to reporting from WKOW. If these students want to take it upon themselves to better themselves, they can join events like these in their community for the time being and wherever their collegiate lives take them in the years ahead.