Sheboygan Falls school suspension shows racism alive and well

Photo of three black teens throws up a red flag of where we are as a society

Story by Nick Erickson, Managing Editor

Maybe you think civil rights and racial inequalities aren’t a pressing problem anymore. And if you do think it is an issue, maybe you think it’s more of a southern problem.

If you think these things, you need to think again. Even though the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1965, inequalities and injustices among different races in the U.S. still plague this nation we call home.

A few weeks ago, there was a blatant case in our northern, progressive state of Wisconsin that didn’t get a lot of attention, but the thought of it makes me sick to my stomach.

Three members, three brothers at that, of the Sheboygan Falls High School boys basketball team poised for a picture together. They took one serious picture and one not so serious, according to The Sheboygan Press. Oh, and these individuals happened to be black.

In the not-so-serious picture, the three brothers, Jamal, Juwaun and Jordan Jackson, make poses and goofy faces.

One of the brothers said he was mimicking National Basketball Association superstar LeBron James and his famous three-finger pose, the one James flashes after sinking a three-point shot. The other brother is simply pointing at the camera, and it looks exactly as the three had intended the picture to represent: three good friends having a good time.

But the Sheboygan Falls school district and police department thought differently. After receiving feedback from parents when the picture was published in The Sheboygan Falls News, the school suspended two of the three Jackson brothers for what they considered to be pointing gang signs. Also, their one-game suspension was to come against Sheboygan Falls’ rival in Plymouth.

I’ll even cut a little slack because according to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, gang activity has increased since 2004 in Sheboygan County. But this harmless picture of three teenage boys threw up a red flag to people? It’s a classic case of judging a book by its cover, and for these three young men, that cover happens to be darker than most of Sheboygan Falls’ general population.

The suspension was ultimately and thankfully lifted for the Jackson brothers, but it brought up a huge problem in the U.S., and that is unwillingness to integrate and acting too quickly to write off the minority voice of justice and reason.

According to 2010 Census data, only half a percent of the Sheboygan Falls population is black, and in areas where there is not a lot of ethnic diversity, minorities seem to struggle getting a chance.

According to the same Census data, minorities as a whole find themselves below the poverty line far more than whites. Also, segregation still exists more than we know it. Sheboygan Falls sits about an hour north from Milwaukee. Recently, Milwaukee earned the title of the most segregated city in America by Rev. Jesse Jackson. Yes, progressive Wisconsinites. Our Milwaukee.

How it got this title is because of suburban escape, which is a real thing. When blacks and other minorities escaped the South over time, they came to cities where jobs and opportunities were most prevalent, places like Cleveland, Chicago, Philadelphia and Milwaukee.

Also over time, white people moved out of these areas and into the suburbs, where higher-income houses reign king. Many of them did so in fear of gang violence, much like some in Sheboygan Falls feared with the now infamous picture of the three high school basketball players.

People of different races don’t want to assimilate. I only have to travel 10 minutes outside of downtown Milwaukee to find that out, when the population shifts from more than 50 percent black to almost 90 percent white.

Until we as a society are willing to move past these petty differences, it will continue to be a problem, and innocent kids like the Jackson brothers are going to be the ones denied opportunity and paying a price.

Don’t let our generation continue that tradition. Don’t hate, assimilate.