Progress sought in 'Wangster' falloutEvents like last month's controversial Wangster Day may be a thing of the past if a small group of Red Wing High School students has anything to say about it.
By: Mike Longaecker, The Republican Eagle
Events like last month's controversial Wangster Day may be a thing of the past if a small group of Red Wing High School students has anything to say about it.
The group met Tuesday to address fallout from the so-called "Wangster" or "Wigger" Day, which prompted concern from school officials and members of Red Wing's black community.
Officials condemned the actions of students who wore hip-hop attire at an unsanctioned homecoming-week activity after black leaders called the event a mockery of African American culture.
Tuesday's student-only meeting laid the groundwork for a new organization, tentatively titled Togetherness and Awareness Makes Greatness, class President Erik Lewis said.
He said students are hoping the program has a lasting impact in promoting race relations and is looking to recruit younger members. The eight-person group - comprised equally of black and white students - discussed Wangster Day, then moved on.
"We didn't want that to be what drove us in the future," he said.
But while students say progress is being made to learn from the incident and put controversy behind them, those efforts haven't put a lid on the situation in the community.
Maxine Pruitt said she wants an apology from school administration for not putting an end to the student-organized event earlier.
Pruitt, whose daughter - a high school senior - told her of the event, also wants the district to send out letters to parents that describe the incident and call for an end to future Wangster Days.
That's not out of the question, School Board Chairman Mitch Boldt said. Whatever the solution is, he said the key will be making sure it's a learning process for all.
"I don't think there's any magic bullet," he said. "There's a lot of dynamics that are involved in this situation. A single, broad-stroke policy isn't going to address them."
Human Rights Commissioner Lois Burns called for stronger policy at the school, calling Wangster Day discriminatory. Administration must carry out a consistent response and anticipate incidents happening, she said.
The Sept. 30 Wangster Day was at least the third such event of its kind, students and school officials said.
Boldt said many kids have joined in on the activity in recent years without giving much thought to it. He said that may included some of his children as well.
"There's nobody that's immune to it, that's for sure," Boldt said.
'An ignorant thing'
Senior Dionte Emerson hopes those who participated in the day see it as a mistake and that the school moves on from it.
"I think it made our school look bad when it shouldn't have, because it's not that big of a deal," Emerson said.
He said another student asked him in advance if he wanted to participate in Wangster Day.
"I told them that I thought it was an ignorant thing to do and, no, I wasn't going to," he said.
Emerson, who is black, said he didn't think participating students did it to be hurtful. But that didn't mean it wasn't offensive, he said.
That happened when Wangster Day mutated into "Wigger Day," he said.
"Wangster" is a term sometimes used to describe a poseur-gangster. The local iteration of the term is a blend of "Winger" and "gangster," according to members of the African American Literacy Project of Red Wing.
The word "wigger" is often used as a derogatory term for white people who adopt black culture. Part of the word draws from a racial epithet used against black people.
"It's a choice to be a gangster but you can't choose your race, so in my opinion, that was what (was) hurtful," Emerson said.
A grassroots effort to enhance Red Wing's cultural awareness appears under way. AALP advocacy coordinator LaVergne Dickerson apprised city officials of the situation Monday, calling for greater cultural education.
City Council member Lisa Bayley agreed, saying she received several complaints from citizens.
"I will be a part of it," she said.
But School Board member Mike Christensen said events like the city's Diversity Festival already serve that need.
He said he knows some of the kids who were involved in Wangster Day. None of those students did it with the intent to upset others, he said.
"They were not trying to offend anyone," he said.
Still, Christensen applauded student efforts to heal any racial divide at the school. Students self-policing the situation is the only effective means to addressing the matter, he said.
"Everything else is static," Christensen said.
But for Pruitt's daughter Quera Pruitt, the wound is still fresh.
"It's that (they) called it Wigger Day," she said. "It's so close to 'nigger' it hurts."
The high school senior who attended Tuesday's student meeting wondered whether any efforts would have a lasting effect.
"We came up with some good ideas," she said.
Boldt said he hopes to forge a combination of student-focused action and administrative measures.
"I would hope it's a series of communications that will make the difference," Boldt said.