Racist Incidents at Newton Public Schools

Multiple Incidents of Racism at Newton Schools

The Catholic Memorial anti-Semitic chants only scratches the surface of racism that exists bubbling just below the surface in the world that we live in. Whether it’s an inability to acknowledge White Privilege in the case of Thoroughly Modern Millie, anti-Semitic symbols at F. A. Day Middle School, and now, in-your-face chants at a sports game, it’s becoming pretty obvious that students need some curriculum in school based on race tolerance. Blatantly racist attitudes are becoming more and more acceptable in the world that we live in, it seems.

Racist Incidents at Newton Public Schools

Currently, many Newton elementary schools use Understanding Our Differences curriculum to develop understanding and respect for fellow students and others with physical, sensory or developmental disabilities. Additional curriculum was added around suicide and stress management in both the middle schools and high schools after the three tragic suicides at Newton North and Newton South High Schools recently.

It’s interesting that despite the anti-semitic incidents at F.A. Day Middle School, the focus has been around identifying the culprit rather than addressing underlying attitudes towards racism.

At Newton North High School as well, when Thoroughly Modern Millie hit the Boston Globe, the school responded by creating a new system of review for choosing musicals (though it was never made public despite promises by then Principal Jennifer Price) — the committee system in the past did not include anyone of color. Addressing the racism introduced to the audience which was mainly the student body was never executed. It’s as if the Newton Schools lack budget, or curriculum, or time, or interest in education around race tolerance. It would seem to be a natural add-on to the bullying prevention curriculum though, that is currently in place.

Below are:
1) Concerned parent who attended NNHS basket playoff game at Newton South in which their opponent used anti-semitic chants. She notes that behavior of NNHS students was also poor.

2) From the Newton Patch, repercussions Catholic Memorial took in response to the chants. Here are interesting articles on Are Catholics Racist? from The National Catholic Review, and How Racist Is Your Church? from U.S. Catholic.

3) Response from NNHS interim principal Mark Aronson.

From a concerned parent:

On March 7, I attended a NNHS basketball playoff game at Newton South.  I was offended by one of the NNHS student section chants and was surprised that people who I thought were NNHS staff in front of the student section didn’t stop them.  I wish I remembered or video taped the offensive chant but can’t remember it now.  Also, I was alarmed because there were many students participating in the inappropriate chant and to me it felt like a mob mentality.

I didn’t attend the March 14 NNHS basketball game at Newton South, but I discussed it with students and parents and read the Washington Post article. Both Newton students and Catholic Memorial behaved poorly, and Catholic Memorial students were held after the game to discuss the inappropriateness and the principal apologized for their chant. I’m not sure if there were any other repercussions at Catholic Memorial, but I haven’t heard of any discussions or apologies from the Newton North students or staff for their initial chant of “sausage fest” which is a derogatory homophobic slur.

With the recent anti-semitic vandalism at Day Middle School  and the recent Priyanka Chopra interview about Newton South bullying added to the NNHS basketball game chants, I think that the school system needs to educate parents/students and have discussions about how they are representing the Newton Public Schools when at school and school events.  Below I’ve taken a paragraph out of the Newton North High School mission statement which we need to strive to attain.

“We strive for excellence in academic, vocational, athletic and artistic endeavors. We celebrate the dignity of all people, teach and learn to the depth and distance of our abilities, take responsibility for our actions and conduct ourselves with integrity and civility.”

From Newton Patch:
Catholic Memorial will be without its ‘sixth man’ Monday night.

The school has banned its students from attending the state tournament semifinal game as outrage mounts over their behavior Friday, WBZ Radio reported.

Tensions escalated before the Friday night game when a back and forth between Catholic Memorial and Newton North students resulted in a ‘You killed Jesus!’ chantdirected at Newton North fans. Catholic Memorial officials quickly squashed the chant and asked fans to apologize to Newton North interim principal Mark Aronson.


From Newton North High School Interim Principal:

Dear North Community,

Today I spoke with our students about the fan behavior at Friday’s basketball game. Chants from both schools were unacceptable, hurtful, and have no place at a high school athletic event or anywhere else. Catholic Memorial has apologized, taken responsibility for its actions, and will use this incident as a learning opportunity.

We at Newton North must, and are currently working to, do the same. Regardless of intent, the impact of chants from our fans was hurtful. On behalf of our community, I have apologized to Catholic Memorial administrators for our fan behavior. We are taking  this event as an opportunity to reflect and learn.  We strive to be a community that is supportive and inclusive. In all situations, our students must remember our values and show our “Tiger Pride” in a positive way.

As principal, I have high expectations for how our students treat each other. I expect you do too. Using this event, as well as incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti and racist comments submitted via an online survey, we will learn more about ourselves and how we can do better as a community. I have no doubt that, together, we will use these unfortunate events to help students gain a greater understanding of the power of their words and increase their cultural competence.


Mark  Aronson

These are all related posts on Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School:

My Take on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Talk Back: Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie at NNHS

NNHS Responds to Concerns About Thoroughly Modern Millie

MTI Advises How to Squelch Dissent on Thoroughly Modern Millie

Throwndown NNHS: Talk the Talk or Walk the Walk? Regarding Racism in Thoroughly Modern Millie

Rebuttal to ‘Millie in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

More Than 50% of Asian American Teens are Bullied in School

White Privilege and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Thoroughly Modern Millie End of School Year Takeaway

Thoroughly Modern Millie Talk Back Videos

These are other articles and posts related to Thoroughly Modern Millie at Newton North High School:

The Boston Globe: School Play’s Stereotypes Bring Outcry and Apology. “Millie” touches nerve in Newton by Ellen Ishkanian

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Flag Highlights How Old Plays are Rife with Stereotypes by Don Aucoin

The Telegraph: US high school show triggers race row by David Millward

NECN TV SegmentNECN Broadside with Jim Braude, Historical Musical Sparks Controvery at Massachusetts High School

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ Fight Creates a Chilling Effect by Joan Vennochi

The Boston Globe: ‘Millie’ in Newton: Turn Stereotypes into Lessons

The Boston Globe: Musical is Little More Than Staged Racism by Jeffrey Melnick (Letter to Editor in response to Joan Vennochi’s article above).

Monitoring, Exposing & Fighting Against Anti-Semitism and Racism: Thoroughly Modern Millie’ play draws controversy in Mass. over racial stereotyping

Company One: In the Intersection, Thoroughly Modern Millie Controvery at Local High School

A case study published by UMass Peter Kiang almost 20 years ago (see pages 9-13), parallels almost exactly what happened at Newton North High School. ScholarWorks at UMass Boston, We Could Shape It: Organizing for Asian American Student Empowerment by Peter Nien-Chu Kiang.

The Notebook: Racism isn’t entertainment: Why “Thoroughly Modern Millie” didn’t belong on CAPA’s stage

Resist Racism: Thoroughly Racist ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

Genki Speak: Racism in Our Backyard

Angry Asian Man

Village 14: Decision to Stage ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ at North Challenged

AsAm News: Play Filled With Offensive Images Sparks Town Hall Meeting

AsAm News: I Love Newton: High School Production Fails To Address Heavy Dose Of Asian American Stereotypes

Greer Tan Swiston: Kudos to Newton North for a thoroughly modern update of ‘Millie’

The Boston Globe: Oh, by the way, how about a round of applause for the kids? (Letter to the Editor from a grandparent)

The Boston Globe: Choice, execution of musical informed by thoughful education process (Letter to the Editor from the writers who comprise the Theatre Arts Opportunity Committee at Newton North High School.)

The Boston Globe: We miss a vital chance for understanding when we swap out ethnic characters(Letter to the Editor from a great-grandmother, teacher and volunteer)

Arissa Oh ‏@arissaoh  1h

3 white ppl on @GreaterBoston unhelpfully discuss HS prodns of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” cc: @pragmaticmom

Pawprint: Millard West Student NewspaperThrough with Thoroughly Modern Millie

The Washington PostTwenty-Three Skiddo: ‘Modern Millie’ Doesn’t Dance

It’s an attempt, sort of, at a parody of the old-style musicals of the ’20s and ’30s, the sort jerry-built out of cheerful songs, convoluted plots, elaborate tap demonstrations and derogatory stereotypes.

IMDbThoroughly Embalmed Musical

Project MuseThoroughly Modern Millie (review)

Not Like CrazyAn Easily Overlooked Racism?

In the Spring semester at school, the Musical Theater Department put on Thoroughly Modern Millie, which was overflowing with racism in its portrayal of Asians. I must say, I was thoroughly upset about the whole thing. First, the guys playing the Asians, I believe they were supposed to be Chinese immigrants, had white face makeup and slanty eyes. I couldn’t help but think that if they’d dressed in blackface, surely there’d be an uproar (Of course, they are putting on Ragtime this year, so we’ll see how they handle that– they’re already sending out emails about how they want the black students to try out for roles because there aren’t many black people in the musical theater department *eyeroll*). That wasn’t the only bad thing about the musical, however, the villian was a white woman pretending to be Asian who pronounced her L’s as R’s, and said she used soy sauce to clean a stain. Of course, she also treated the two Asian immigrants who worked for her as if they were stupid, and the silently and humbly submit in front of her, though behind closed doors they argue in Chinese (I guess it was real Chinese), with subtitles projected above the stage. And then one of the Asian men falls in love with one of the white women in the musical, blonde hair, blue eyes, you know the deal. At the end of the musical, they get together, as if his reward for working hard and being submissive, for being mistreated, is the gift of white womanhood, the pinnacle of creation. So yeah, I was pretty pissed about that whole thing.

MyvanwyReview of Thoroughly Modern Millie

Someone sent me video of a local comedian’s youtube video of a character I’ve seen him portray once before. To call it infantile and racially insensitive would be a gross understatement. For the targets of his ridicule, it’s every bit as offensive as a mean-spirited performance in blackface. But because it’s against one of the few groups for whom bigotry, hostility, and ridicule is still acceptable (Chinese Americans and others of Asian and/or Pacific Island descent), it’s seen as okay by most and even encouraged by other local comedians. Kevin Marshall’s America

Zak KeithHollywood Asian Stereotypes

Racism against Asians is often “unawares”—a form of racism that flies under the radar due to its widespread acceptance as the norm. Its interactive dynamic resembles that of an unwritten social contract. Asians in the West are expected to accept patronizing remarks and racist taunts so demeaning that perpetrators would think twice before dishing them out with such unwavering consistency to any other minority group, such as Latinos or African Americans. Asians who object to such treatment are typically met with befuddlement and offense at their audacity to make an issue out of it.

p.p.s. Here are some related posts on my Asian American blog:

How Asian Americans Are Portrayed in U.S. Media. Who Should Be the Next Asian Old Spice Guy?

Asian Americans in Recurring TV Gigs

A Racist Bakesale Exposes Reverse Discrimination Against Asian Americans (I include this link because this is the real racist front that Asian Americans are currently fighting. All my posts on this topic are here.

Making us explain why Yellow Face is offensive is a waste of our time. I can’t believe this is still being used. In real life, has there ever been a white person pretending to be Asian? It’s only in the media and on the stage that this ridiculous premise exists.)

Survivor: Cook Islands Winner Yul Kwon and Why Media Portrayal of Asian Americans Matters


Mia Wenjen blogs at PragmaticMom: Education Matters, here and occasionally at her Asian American blog JadeLuckClub. She resides in Newton with her husband and three kids, the oldest of which will attend Newton North High School this fall. She can be found on PinterestTwitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Sulia, Google +Instagram and YouTube.

Photo credit: Grasshopper and Sensei, my oldest.

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