“Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something.” –Thoreau

22 May 2010

Open letter to Lincoln East High.


Dear Students, Administrators, and Alumni:

I graduated from Lincoln East High School in 2004. In the time I attended East, I was able to meet friends and acquaintances from every ethnic and socioeconomic group. I had opportunities to learn about morality, about tolerance, and-- to a certain extent-- about myself. I have always looked back on my East High experience as a positive one. It hurts me in ways you cannot imagine to have those memories sullied by an act of racism so despicable it has made front page news all over the country.

The story is even big news here, in Chicago, where I live and work. People in big cities like Chicago have a limited understanding of what life is like in a place like Lincoln. They make sweeping assumptions about Nebraskans based on what little information travels outside state lines to infiltrate the National media. This means they know we raise beef, play football, outlaw gay marriage, and vote Republican. And now they know we're racists too. How absolutely deplorable.

How dare you? How dare you speak for the population of Nebraska, of Lincoln, of East High School with voices full of ignorance and hate? And it is not enough that the instigators receive a slap on the wrist, or that educators are emailed suggestions on "better preparing" students for life in a "global society." We are talking about a hate crime, here. Make no mistake.

I also find it disgusting that the news media continue to call the incident a "prank." Would it be a "prank" if the students had rained lynching ropes down on the heads of a team of mostly black students? Would it be a "prank" if it happened to you? This wasn't about garnering a laugh. It was about telling a group of people that look marginally different from ourselves that they aren't welcome. That we want them gone. And I, for one, do NOT want them gone. I am furious that anyone would have the gall to say so on my behalf.

The Statue of Liberty has a quote by Emma Lazarus inscribed on its base. It reads: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Emma Lazarus was born in New York City, the daughter of American-born Portuguese Jews. She wrote those words in 1883, only 107 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At the time, America's shores were flooded with Irish, Polish, Russian, Asian, and German immigrants, many of whom are probably East High School students' grandparents. Not all of them chose to enter the country legally. And those who did could have told you first-hand what a heartrending, horrific experience it can be.

How lucky they are that no one was throwing green cards at their children, screaming at them to go "back where they came from." Or, at the very least, how lucky these spoiled, self-righteous American brats are that their own great-grandparents did not buckle under the pressure. That no one required them to carry papers to prove they belonged here. That local police officers weren't threatening them with deportation just because they're seen walking down the street.

To the students of Omaha South High School, I say: Welcome. Stay. Do not buckle. Whether you were born here or not, whether your families are legal or not, I will defend your right to "breathe free" for as long as I am able to draw breath. In one hundred years, the span of a single lifetime, your children's children will thank you. And so will mine.

Yours Respectfully,
Jennifer Cary