Words Have Power – Addressing Hate in Perrysburg
Vandalism, graffiti, hate speech, and bullying. These are the top search results when you Google Perrysburg and click the news tab.
First search result: a house in a rather upscale neighborhood spray painted with racist hate speech shortly after a purchase offer is put in by an African-American family.
The link that follows: “whites only,” among other phrases graffitied in a boys bathroom at Perrysburg High School.
On Monday, February 25th, the principal of Perrysburg High School, Dr. Michael Short, addressed the recent racial outbursts within our community and school. He challenged the students who walk the halls of PHS to look through “a different lens than the one given to us.”
Since then, a new story about PHS student speech has surfaced: an anonymous Twitter user made an account with the intention of “ranking” female students at the high school. Students were ranked on a placement scale of 1 to 65 based off of their bodies, looks, personality, race, and sexuality among other things. As a result, a cyberbullying investigation was launched by Perrysburg police and school authorities.
This case in particular means so much more than some teenagers mocking their female peers. It’s normal to dislike some classmates in a high school with so many personalities, but no interaction justifies creating an account made specifically to bully and harass others.
“There is absolutely no place for this type of speech in our schools or world,” read an official statement published by the school district.
This strong message from Perrysburg Schools exists in a larger context of social tension in our community and the country. These increasingly prevalent vulgarities of intolerance and hatred are not a problem specific to Perrysburg alone.
In early January, CNN reported that eight workers at the GM plant in Toledo sued the company for failing to acknowledge what the employees say was blatant racism and hate speech happening in their workplace. More recently, two men were arrested in Bowling Green, Ohio, after physically attacking two victims in a Waffle House while using racial slurs.
In an era of seeming social progress and idealism, none of the events mentioned here are progressive for anyone, especially the victims of cyberbullying.
Despite the number of times we students have heard generic ‘anti-bullying’ phrases, they exist to help all involved avoid situations as destructive as this one. After all, everyone has heard “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all,” and this serves as a prime example.
The commonality between all these incidents is that each and every one of the words used had consequences, no matter if it was direct or indirect.
“I take solace in the fact that this is not our norm,” Short read aloud on that February morning.
Nonetheless, these statements of hate have become more frequent, and that is a scary fact to admit. In these times, we turn to reassurance from authority figures.
Numerous public officials condemned the acts, including Tom Hosler, the superintendent of Perrysburg Schools. “This does not represent our community, its values or the culture that makes Perrysburg such a special place to live, learn and work,” he wrote in an official statement.
Yet no matter how many times we repeat “This isn’t Perrysburg,” those words lack power if we don’t substantiate what we say with action. The first major step of problem-solving is admitting problems exist, and the problem is we can’t be “Perfects-Burg” forever. Without definitive action taken, the door is left wide open for the next public enemy to act.
We must unify not only in support for the victims of these crimes, but to be attentive making sure none of these situations ever happens again.
As insignificant as a few words scribbled on a bathroom stall or posted in an obscure tweet seem, those words all hold immense power.
Hate speech works insidiously. It cannot be suppressed because it operates in disguise. The specific culprits know this, but they also know that it is not welcome in a moral society, and certainly not in Perrysburg. Hatred revels in cowardice and obscures itself from public view.
As a community, we must remember to welcome new people and new ideas. When we think with that frame of mind, hatred cannot flourish.
For now, we must let the authorities do their part.
In the words of Dr. Short, “We all share this time and place in the world. That alone gives each of us value to the other.”
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