Despite being an athlete and an honor roll student, 13-year-old Za'Khari Waddy, a student at Tabb Middle School in Yorktown, Virginia, says he experiences racism and cruelty at school on a daily basis. Za'Khari and his mother, Zettrona Powell, say they both have reported the racism to the school many times before, but nothing has been done about it. It wasn't until Za'Khari was taunted with racist remarks by a white student on a school bus ride to an away game on Oct. 27 that he decided to speak out.
The open letter Za'Khari wrote to his school and submitted to the New York Daily News said:
To Whom It May Concern:
Yesterday on the football bus coming from our football game a kid ... started saying racist things to me. He then started saying he does not like blacks and he told me 200 years ago my ancestors hung from a tree and after he said that I should I hang from a tree. That made me super mad, so in the locker room I told him not to call me n----r or that I should be hung on a tree. The coaches took me away from the kid because I was really mad and they think I was going to fight him but I want someone to do something about it because I’m tired of boys messing with me because of my skin. I’m at my boiling point with this. Please do something about this because when I bring it to the office/principle you do nothing about it and I’m tired of the racism.
There are two big things that stick out about this emotional letter. The first, and the most glaring, is the fact that racism appears to still be going on at local schools on a near-daily basis — despite the fact that many people insist our society is now post-racial and should be "colorblind." Take a closer look, and it's clear that quite the opposite is true. It was only months ago that a racially motivated mass shooting took place in South Carolina. It was only weeks ago that a man made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter for mocking a black child in a selfie. It was only days ago that racist threats and a history of racism at the University of Missouri were brought to light.
We're not living in a "post-racial" society — not even close.
The other big problem highlighted in Za'Khari's letter is how the adults reacted, or didn't react, on his behalf. According to Za'Khari, he was separated from another student by his coaches because they were worried about a fight — not because they were trying to protect Za'Khari from the racial slurs he heard each day. Even worse, the principal and the school office reportedly did not help.
If these accounts are true, it would be an understatement to say that all the adults in Za'Khari's life have dropped the ball. School administrators who are supposed to defuse bullying to protect students appear to have turned a blind eye. Coaches who were eyewitnesses to the racial abuse seem to be practicing damage control without addressing the real problem. And let's not forget about the parents of the kids slinging the racist insults in the first place. We don't know for sure if these students picked up the N-word at home, but we do know that a parent has a huge influence on a child's outlook on the world, for better or for worse.
It's easy to blame the kids who are perpetuating racism at school, but as adults, we can always do better. Perhaps the biggest mistake we make when talking to our kids about race is in putting it in a historical context — implying racism happened 50 years ago and is no longer an issue. Based on Za'Khari's story and many other accounts of racial bullying at school, we now know this couldn't be further from the truth.
As parents, we're either part of the problem, or we're part of the solution. Choosing not to talk to our kids about racism is the attitude behind what's going on at Za'Khari's school. Fortunately the solution to this problem is just as easy. No matter the color of your child's skin, talk to them about race, and talk to them often. Tackling this uncomfortable topic at home means a more accepting and safe environment for all children at school.
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