By Lakia Manska
Dressing up for boys basketball games has been an added joy to their wonderful season.
I’ve lost my voice countless times cheering them on in games. I yell “go Tigers!” with great pride.
On March 26, during the third place game of the state tournament, things were different.
Wearing “Morris Tigers” across my chest felt like a betrayal. Some of my closest friends were on the team, yet I felt a pang in my heart each time I clapped. My body was in the gym, but my mind wandered. I felt nauseous.
The Minneapolis North boys basketball team faced many challenges in the early months of 2022. Deshaun Hill, fellow classmate, teammate, and friend, was killed in February. He was just 15 years old. Teachers from the Twin Cities area went on a strike, demanding change in the resources for students and educators alike. COVID-19 continued to be a looming factor in their lives. The state tournament was an opportunity for the boys to show, no matter how much life throws at them, they will still prevail. The Polars won their first game against Glencoe-Silver Lake, then followed with another hard fought victory against Morris Area/Chokio Alberta.
“U suck so f****** bad dude go back to ur fundamentals. Get ur monkey a** outta here n****”
Then, with one send button, all of that was taken away from them again.
In the next 24 hours, news outlets would pick up on the incident. The message flooded social media as people showed their disgust toward the insults. One person’s ignorance sparked a spiral of emotions across Minnesota.
My thoughts while in the student section: “How can you call yourself an activist, yet stand with the school being accused of racism?”
I have been called a monkey. People have used the n-word to devalue me as a human being. My successes have been taken away because how can a black girl truly be successful? I understood what those boys were going through. Those boys fought their way to the state championship, yet they were made to feel they did not deserve it.
Imposter Syndrome is a noun defined as an inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved from one’s own efforts and skills. I want you to think back to your biggest accomplishment. Remember the pride, joy, and triumph you felt in the moment. Recall the amount of determination, hard work, and ambition it took to get there. As an active student, my goals are always changing and expanding. My proudest moments came with being a part of the first tennis team in Morris Area school history to attend the state tournament, placing fourth in the state speech tournament, winning the senior solo division at a dance competition, and getting accepted into the National Honor Society. These feats came from the work I have put into my academics and athletics everyday.
“She only got in because she’s black.”
“Wow, they really must be really trying to show they care about diversity here.”
“I can’t believe I lost to a n****”
I understand what it is like to have achievements questioned. Why? Because my skin apparently means my abilities are not good enough.
To some, the comment made toward the Minneapolis North boys has already faded from their minds. The Polar basketball team and their families do not get that luxury. A moment they needed for unity and healing was stripped away. There will be that voice whispering to them that they did not deserve what they achieved.
In the days following the incident, I reached out to the Minneapolis North basketball team with my condolences and a promise to educate the community I have lived in my entire life. The Polar’s assistant coach shed some light on the ways his boys felt and what experiences have been like in the past. We discussed the teams’ hurt, and, after a long conversation, he said the devastating yet truthful words.
“Exactly, but what’s new?”
What Is new? The assistant coach explained how his players have always and will always face people who want to tear them down. Society has a way of giving black people severe imposter syndrome. It is not new. While it never hurts any less, black kids are taught that this will be a normal part of their lives. We have normalized hate. We have normalized minorities feeling as if they will never be enough.
It’s the same story over and over again. Videos leaked of a Prior Lake student repeatedly using the n-word and telling a young black girl to “go kill herself”. Schools cancel conference games after New Prague athletes use racial slurs toward black players. Minneapolis North receives racist messages after a state tournament win. And these are only from Minnesota in the year 2022. Occurrences like this happen across the country everyday. Many times, the problem does not receive large media attention. Hate like this makes imposter syndrome flourish in black communities.
One of the most impactful statements I have ever seen came from black musician, comedian, and actress Tawny Newsome: “For anyone worried about talking to their white children right now – too worried that their kid is too young for these conversations – I was 5 or 6 when my Dad told me “no matter what you do, some people will always hate you.” Black children do not get to NOT understand racism.”
Talking about racism is hard. It is uncomfortable to acknowledge. We worry about teaching critical race theory in school because of students’ age. We worry the conversation will be too much for youth.
I was four years old when I faced racism. I was four years old when someone claimed I made my family “wrong” because I am black. Those words led to severe insecurities and anxieties throughout my childhood. I did not get to not understand racism. Black children do not get to not understand racism.
We must flip the script. Instead of teaching black kids at a young age that people will always hate them, let’s teach all children to love one another. Tell kids that race does not make them good or bad. Show students what the history of racism in the US was like so we do not continue the cycle.
The learning does not stop at a certain age. Adults must strive to understand racial disparities and how they can ignite change. We must fight the stereotypes we have and the microaggressions we have allowed to continue. We must admit we are not all perfect. We have biases.
Implicit Bias is defined as an act on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes without the intention to do so.
I am assigning some homework here: take the Harvard Implicit Association Test. It’s online, free, and takes less than ten minutes. There are 15 tests including religion, gender, skin-tone, and age. Taking these tests have shown me I need to work on myself as well. As much as I would like to say I do not hold biases, the IAT showed I have room to improve in removing stereotypes from my mind. This is humbling and a difficult pill to swallow, but acknowledgement of a problem is the first step toward fixing it.
In some weird way, the incident has been a good thing. The message itself is horrible as well as the effects the recipients faced. However, it opened the eyes of many to an issue that has survived for much too long. There’s no way to take the message back. It is real. It is out. It is public knowledge. What we can change is the course of the future. Racism will not be fixed overnight, nor will there be a simple solution. It takes effort and time from everyone. It takes tough conversations and deep self-reflections. But change can happen. Unity and equality can turn from a dream to a reality.
This change can start with you.
Comments from John and Stacie Manska, Lakia’s parents: “We think it says a lot from our school from Scott Monson’s article that they are bringing in an outside source to have a discussion on using Social Media and at the beginning of school had a speaker talk about respect and kindness – but the school is not addressing the real issue of Racism in our school district.
Why are we not having a speaker talking about the real issue? And not a white person – talking about racism, that isn’t going to work.