California school forfeits football season over mock 'slave auction'

California school forfeits football season over mock ‘slave auction’

A California high school will forfeit the rest of its varsity football season after some players were captured on video appearing to act out a “slave auction” of their Black teammates.

The Yuba City Unified School District first forfeited last Friday’s game after administrators became aware of the video Thursday, Superintendent Doreen Osumi said in a statement. The district later said it would forfeit the rest of the season after banning the involved team members from playing.

The mock auction at River Valley High School appeared organized, Osumi said, suggesting that the students planned the situation without considering that it was “disgraceful.”

“Reenacting a slave sale as a prank tells us that we have a great deal of work to do with our students so they can distinguish between intent and impact,” Osumi said. “They may have thought this skit was funny, but it is not; it is unacceptable and requires us to look honestly and deeply at issues of systemic racism.”

District administrators did not answer questions about how many students were involved, what specifically the video showed and where the recording was shared. The incident, which took place roughly 38 miles north of Sacramento, was previously reported by Sacramento-based television station KCRA and other local news outlets.

Mock slave auctions in schools — some sanctioned by officials and others not — have come under increased scrutiny in recent years as the United States struggles to respond to its history of racism and fractures over how much its past sins still shape it. Schools have been particularly heated settings for those arguments as politicians in Republican-led states seek to ban lessons that suggest that racism is systemic in the United States.

For the Yuba City district, the loss of the players means the team does not have enough members to complete the season. Sophomores and juniors on the varsity team, which was 0-5 before its first forfeit last week, can choose to play on the junior varsity team.

Some students may be further disciplined, Osumi said, and the district is working to develop programs about racism to help students learn from the situation. Administrators are also developing training for the football team “to act with character and dignity at all times,” she said.

“When students find humor in something that is so deeply offensive,” Osumi said, “it tells me that we have an opportunity to help them expand their mind-set to be more aware, thoughtful and considerate of others.”

It started with a mock ‘slave trade’ and a school resolution against racism. Now a war over critical race theory is tearing this small town apart.

The California Interscholastic Federation, which oversees high school sports in California, said it supports administrators’ decision “to promptly address the misconduct of their students.”

“Discrimination in any form or any acts that are disrespectful or demeaning are unacceptable and are not consistent with the principles of the CIF,” the group said in a statement.

Like the incident in Yuba City, some mock slave auctions have been instigated by students. In April 2021, a video shared on Snapchat showed students in Traverse City, Mich., “trading” their Black classmates. The district’s response, which included fast-tracking a resolution to better teach students how to live in a diverse country, roiled the community.

Other times, teachers have guided their students to act out an auction as a history lesson—often prompting outrage. That’s what happened in Maplewood, NJ, in 2017, when a substitute teacher orchestrated and filmed a mock auction as a lesson about Colonial history. Two years later, a teacher in Bronxville, NY, allegedly let White students “bid on” Black students. And in March, a North Carolina superintendent apologized after White middle-schoolers pretended to “sell” their Black classmates.

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