Helping kids value racial diversity

Cadillac Department of Public Works employee Cody Stillwell worked to scrub away a spray-painted swastika. Somebody sprayed the hate symbol on a city-owned sidewalk along the Clam River in September.

CADILLAC — The “OK‘ hand gesture can be a hate symbol, you may have heard.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) recently added the “OK‘ gesture to its online database of hate symbols.

While race might be the farthest thing from your mind when you use the gesture, the ADL says racists have been using it as a symbol of white supremacy.

“Begun as a hoax by members of the website 4chan, the OK symbol became a popular trolling tactic,‘ the ADL explained in a press release. “By 2019, the symbol was being used in some circles as a sincere expression of white supremacy.‘

Now the symbol is in the ADL’s database, which the organization provides as a tool “as part of its effort to track hate groups and help law enforcement, educators and other members of the public recognize symbols that serve as a potential warning of the presence of extremists and anti-Semites.‘

In September, the Cadillac News spoke to ADL of Michigan Director Carolyn Normandin after swastikas were spray-painted on a sidewalk alongside the Clam River.

She encourages parents, educators and law enforcement to familiarize themselves with the symbols in the ADL database.

Knowing what the symbols are can help you stand up against them.

“The more people that stand up against it, the better off we are to effect change,‘ Normandin said at the time.

Because hate groups are known to be targeting young people, the Cadillac News reached out to educators to learn what schools are already doing to prepare students to stand up against hatred.

Andrea Bugg, a high school social studies teacher in Cadillac who teaches world history and an elective “History of the Holocaust‘ class, told the Cadillac News that facts are the center of the curriculum.

“We talk about how you can’t necessarily change what people are going to accept but you can know the facts behind things,‘ Bugg said.

For the world history and Holocaust class, that means educating students that genocide can be the result of intolerance; it’s what can happen when tolerance is not a national priority.

“We focus a lot on the commonalities a lot of people share,‘ Bugg said.

Students are already familiar with the Holocaust and they know that racism and prejudice are wrong.

“But I don’t think they know about how it manifests itself necessary,‘ Bugg said. And so Bugg talks to them about how people can be prejudiced or insensitive without realizing it because of their own privilege, she said, citing selfies at battlefields or memorials as an example she might use in class.

Bugg agreed with Normandin about the importance of familiarizing yourself with hate symbols.

“I do worry about that,‘ Bugg said. She said that while she might not have direct experience with the latest crop of new hate symbols, she knows they are showing up.

“We do place very close attention to what kids are doing,‘ Bugg said — if teachers encounter a kid drawing a swastika in a textbook, for example, the teacher would explain to the student that the symbol is hateful,

“We’re increasingly becoming concerned and interested in what those hate symbols are in our community and looking out for them,‘ Bugg said.

“It comes down to educating kids and parents about where these ideas come from,‘ she said. “And constantly working to overturn them.‘

Cadillac News