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Tyra Batts, Buffalo High School Student Takes to the Internet After Injustice at School (5169 hits)

Before every game, the girls' basketball team at Kenmore East High School have a disturbing tradition. "The whole team before our game has a ritual of saying 1-2-3 and then the N word," says Tyra Batts, the only African-American member of her Buffalo-area high school team. "It's a tradition that's been going on for years." When Batts joined the team this year, with dreams of going on to play college basketball, she noticed her teammates would secretly huddle up for the alarmingly racist chant before every game.

"I would argue about it and say to not say it," Batts said in a home video submitted to the Buffalo News, "and they would tell me they're not racist, it's just a word. There was nothing I could do much before the game because I was outnumbered." After confronting one of her teammates, she says she was verbally attacked with another racial slur. After that, the confrontation got physical and Batts was suspended for five days for initiating a fight. "It was a buildup of anger and frustration at being singled out of the whole team," she said.

When school officials didn't dig around enough to find out why the fight took place, Batts' parents called a local radio station and shared her story with the community. Finally, the school got a clue. Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro launched an inquiry and released a statement saying: "This type of insensitivity to one of our students is wrong, unacceptable, unfortunate, and will never, ever be tolerated." By Friday, the students who allegedly engaged in the chant were suspended for two days and the entire team was penalized with canceled practices, a game suspension and the return of a sportsmanship award earned last year.

But Batts isn't satisfied. There's the fact that she's considering not playing on the basketball team anymore, and she's still being penalized with three more days of suspension than her teammates. "I'm getting a lot of feedback that the team should be suspended for more than two days, longer than I have, because I actually fought for a reason," she said. "I didn't just do it out of nowhere." While her teammates are now required to partake in "cultural sensitivity training", the administration hasn't commented on changing their own staff policies.

According to Tyra Batts, the chant was only a fraction of the racist remarks she'd been subjected to from her teammates. While her principal and school superintendent have personally apologized to the Batts family, officials may want to focus on larger efforts administrators can make to change the school's culture. Why did it take Batts' parents' public plea for this outrageous tradition to be stopped? And how had no coaches or staff members heard this long-standing tradition taking place? School officials claim the students were secretive about their chant and after the fight broke out, administrators didn't get the "full" story because students were only in school one half day.

While it's never okay to use physical violence, Batts' reaction was a last-ditch effort in a situation where everyone had turned their backs. The school should be looking at why it had to get that far before a single student's voice was heard. Now, other students at the school are sending their own message on Twitter. "Our school is racist" one student tweeted. Another classmate wrote simply, "I'm soo embarrassed to go to kenmore east."

As reported by the Buffalo News and NBC affiliate WGRZ, among other sources, at least 12 members of the Kenmore (N.Y.) East High girls basketball team were suspended for their use of a pregame chant in the locker room that included the most offensive racial epithet associated with African-Americans. According to the News, the team would chant "One, two, three [N-word]" just before leaving the locker room.

When the team's only African-American member, Tyra Batts, voiced her concern about the chant, teammates told her that the use of the slur was a team tradition, and that they were not willing to stop using it. For the record, Batts said the team's coach, Kristy Bondgren, had heard comments in practice referring to her race but that Bondgren was unaware about the team's pregame chant.

"I said, 'You're not allowed to say that word because I don't like that word,'" Batts told the News in a home video she submitted to the newspaper. "They said, 'You know we're not racist, Tyra. It's just a word, not a label.' I was outnumbered."

Yet, as long as the chant continued, so did Batts' frustration and anger. Eventually, following weeks of other racially inappropriate references -- teammates allegedly made jokes referencing slavery, shackles and picking cotton -- a teammate used another disgusting racially insensitive insult, calling Batts a "black piece of [expletive]." That's when Batts could take it no longer and was involved in a fight on school grounds with the teammate who hurled the insult.

"It was a buildup of anger and frustration at being singled out of the whole team," Batts told the News.

Because of school rules, Batts had to be suspended for her involvement in the fight, as was the other girl involved in the fight. She was banned for five days, though she could have been suspended for longer for her role in the altercation. That changed because she told administrators of the reasons for her frustration, and her suspension was immediately shortened while Kenmore officials investigated the claims of racism.

When they discovered that the chant had indeed been used, the school swiftly suspended at least 12 members of the team for two days a piece on the grounds that the chant was a violation of the school's code of conduct. The school board also canceled all team practices for a week, canceled a scheduled team bonding trip and scheduled a mandatory cultural sensitivity training session for the entire team. The superintendent of the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District also unilaterally rescinded a league-wide sportsmanship award which had been awarded to the school in 2010.

"The insensitive chant is absolutely unacceptable, insensitive and not representative of the diverse student body within the ... school district," Mark Mondanaro, the Kenmore superintendent, told the News. "[The pregame chant was] wrong, unacceptable, unfortunate and will never, ever be tolerated."

There's little question that officials reacted swiftly when they became aware that the racist chant was being used, but that hardly mitigates the fact that it was used in the first place, and that it appears to have been for some time. Add to that the fact that only two of Batts' teammates have apologized for their use of the slur, and the teenager's father was left to openly wonder whether the program -- which is situated in a town whose population is 97 percent white -- has quietly been fostering a culture of racism for longer than anyone realized.

"This wasn't something that just developed this year," said Raymond Batts Jr., Tyra's father. "This is something that's been ongoing for quite some time."

Posted By: Jen Fad
Sunday, December 11th 2011 at 11:45AM
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Wow! thanks for sharing.

I keep thinking that this kind of crap doesn't happen any more...and I am always proven wrong.

Someday we will read about this kind of stuff in history books. Sad to say, that day may be pretty far off.

Monday, December 12th 2011 at 7:52PM
Richard Kigel
@ Saint,

The town of Tonawanda is one of those small towns that has a culture of its own where everyone knows their place. The fact that the Batts' started the fight is irrelevant. Anyone who fights should get the same punishment. I got a speeding ticket up there once and it reminded me of my birth county in S.C. All the black and white people know where each one belongs. It has a culture more like unspoken rules.

Monday, December 12th 2011 at 8:11PM
Jen Fad
I really admire Tyra for her courage! I wish her well.

Monday, December 12th 2011 at 9:34PM
Richard Kigel

@ Sister Irma,
Perhaps I need to clarify myself... it doesn't matter who started the confrontation; each one should be punished the same for using their fists instead of their words to solve problems.

@ Brother Rich,
I admire her courage, too. She's very brave to go against the status quo.

@ Saint,
That's the one.
Tuesday, December 13th 2011 at 2:06PM
Jen Fad
@ Saint,

I find the people in Upstate NY are "cut off" from the rest of the world. I find the people truly weird being that I mix and mingle with all people. Have you ever been to Buffalo, NY? I did a travel nursing contract there for a SHORT (emphasis on short) time ... There are still White people who refer to Black people as "Coloured" over there . I would find it very difficult to live in a place like that. Buffalo, Tonawanda, and the surrounding areas are just like being in Alaska... although its considered part of America... it's a land all of its own.

Wednesday, December 14th 2011 at 2:38PM
Jen Fad

On October 25, 2008 the United Nations released a report entitled "State of the World's Cities" in which the Buffalo-Niagara Falls area was specifically cited as having one of the worst rates of economic inequality in the world and that it was racially based. The report specifically stated "the report cited figures from western New York state, where 40 per cent of black, Hispanic and ethnically-mixed households earned less than $15,000 in 1999, as compared to 15 per cent of white households." In addition, the United States Census department also released information placing the Buffalo-Niagara metro area, as the 8th most segregated area in America.,_New_...

Wednesday, December 14th 2011 at 2:53PM
Jen Fad
Hi Jen, this reminds me of when the movie Barbar Shop came out..."I" was offeneded by the movie and I talked about it with one of the counselors at our local community college...she advised me to write my local paper and to fredrick the Entainer the exact things I had said to her (no I was not a student but am a member of the community it is in).

here is an over view of what I wrote...This movie is dangerous for many people, because it will cause many to start to think they can start saying '*****' in the monkey see, monkey do rational, when saying tis word can still get you hurt or killed!

Some black people you can come up to and try to imitate Black teens with the "my n*ggar" as the latest fad...but since dead is still dead, movies should come with a warning about there is a right, acceptable way to say it and even then it still depends on the tone it is said no matter what the skin color...

then there is this one must take in concern...

I myself use it in a frendly way with personal friend of all colors...but I would never use this word in the hearing distance or lip reading distance or reading distance of my husband. "THE LIFE YOU SAVE JUST MAY BE YOUR OWN".(smile)
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
Jen, no offense, but that is like saying we are waiting for a LEADER to come teach us that things like racial Profiling is illegal.This school is a school and schools should teach our constitution......

Thisis a Christian nation and it should teach...WE ALL ALL GOD'S CHILDREN AND GET RID OF DIFFERENT IS DEF ECIENT and not have our politicians out there campaigning on don't leave home with your ak47 and if you are in high school then only take a small gun!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (NUP)
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
My local paper as a rule will print all of my letters to the would help if we sometimes send to the editor of our local paper some of our thoughts...emails to thi s school, town ,ect. the leader we wait for is each one of us. Oh and in our paper the report of the article has his, her phone # and email address...hint, hint, hint. lol (smile)
p.s. I do all of my formal writting using the dictionary. (otfl) (smile)
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
Thursday, April 10th 2014 at 6:47PM
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