April 1, 2021 by Glenn Mangurian
By now you (and the nation) have heard that the Duxbury High School football team used the words “Auschwitz, dreidel and rabbi” as their audible signals in a recent game against Plymouth North High. We don’t know if this was the first time those words were used or if this was a recurring pattern. Most of you are asking, “What were they thinking? They must have known that Auschwitz was a concentration camp where over one million innocent men, women and children were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.”
Some of you may be thinking this has been blown out of proportion – good kids making an ignorant mistake. Really? Of all the words available, why choose those? Imagine if those words were used in a college or professional football game. What would have happened during the game and what would the consequences have been? While an investigation has been launched, this incident has already tarnished the reputation of Duxbury High School and the Town of Duxbury.
Why Wasn’t Action Taken Immediately?
This isn’t just a failure of the students who uttered the words but also many others.
- Where were the teammates? Was the fear of speaking against a wrong so great it silenced a whole team?
- Where were the captains of the football team? Did the leaders think this appropriate?
- Where were the three coaches? How could they not have known these offensive words were associated with an audible play? Did they think their use was ok?
- Where were the referees? Shouldn’t they have stopped the game, summoned the coaches and taken action immediately?
- Where were the parents in the stands? I assumed not one left his/her seat to express outrage to the coaches. What would you have done?
Genocide Is More Than a Chapter in a Book
The Holocaust and genocide are more than abstractions to me. I learned about genocide from my immigrant Armenian grandparents who fled Turkey before the Ottoman Turks engaged in the systematic mass murder and death marches of 1 million Armenians in 1915. Over 100 years later, Turkey denies this genocide even happened.
"Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" – attributed to Adolph Hitler
This quote has often been cited to support that Hitler knew about the Armenian Genocide and was inspired by it to commit atrocities.
In 1969 I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial, which stands on the site of the original camp. As I walked through one of the gas chambers, it was extremely difficult for me to comprehend the atrocities that were committed a mere 25 years earlier. The memory of my visit is indelible in my memory 52 years later.
Tragically, in even more recent times genocide, “ethnic cleansing” and other crimes against humanity have been carried out in such places as Cambodia (1975-1979), Uganda (1971-1979), Bosnia (1992-1995), Rwanda (1994). Even today horrors continue in Darfur (starting in 2003), Syria (starting 2011) and Yemen (starting 2015).
Prejudice Continues to Be Pervasive in Different Forms
Sadly, prejudice exists across our society and yes, even with some of our youth. Some students engage in Anti-Semitic, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic or other forms of degrading talk. Parents may not be aware of what is being said on social media, in the cafeteria, on the school bus, in the locker room or in casual conversations. When this talk comes out of the shadows and into daylight, there is outrage. The predictable reaction is a call for better education in the schools on the Holocaust, human rights as well as the benefits of diversity, inclusion and equity.
My guess is that Duxbury High, like other high schools, already has human rights and social justice education modules. Yes, they probably can be improved. There are many excellent programs commonly used. For example, the well-known program, “Facing History and Ourselves”, uses lessons from history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. The program addresses racism, antisemitism, and prejudice at pivotal moments in history. One of the objectives is to help students connect choices made in the past to those they will confront in their own lives. We must learn the terrible consequences of “Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing” mindset as wrong words are said or hurtful actions carried out on others. We’ve seen police officers stand by while George Floyd was tortured and murdered and citizens not intervene to stop the current Anti-Asian attacks. Isn’t inaction complicity?
Education Beyond the Classroom
We know that education happens beyond the classroom, during after school activities, among peers, online and with family members. All these interactions contribute to shape youth values and to prepare youth for adulthood. While schools play an important role, parents have a profound impact on their children’s behavior. Emotional intelligence (self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy) is one of the critical life skills. One particular aspect of empathy is understanding how one’s words impact others. An offhand comment can easily be received as critical or derogatory. Without speaking up in the moment, the pattern is likely to repeat itself.
Let’s Have a Difficult Conversation
Let me be clear. This issue is not limited to Duxbury. Anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice exist in all towns including Hingham. The most important education (for both parents and children) can take place at the family dinner table. It is time for a family conversation about conscious and unconscious bias and how bias affects our actions. Just as important is to discuss the consequences of silence when you see or hear something that you know is wrong. If adolescent students see bigotry unaddressed in their youth, they are more likely to be silent as adults. For youth, peer pressure and the fear of speaking up perpetuate negative actions by a few.
We live in an interconnected global world. Media, technology and travel have raised awareness of different peoples, cultures and religions. Our collective future depends on a better understanding of history and each other. That imperative is the reality for us to live and for our children to carry on.
If the football incident creates a broader conversation in area schools, on social media and at homes, that will be a good thing. Parents are role models for their children. Listen to you children. Share your experiences. You have an opportunity to reinforce what is right, point out why wrong is wrong and how silence in the face of wrong will likely result in the wrong repeated. So take the initiative to have the conversation. It may be difficult but, don’t let the opportunity be lost.
Glenn Mangurian has been a resident of Hingham for 35 years. He is a retired business leader with more than four decades of experience driving innovation and results with his clients. Glenn remains active with his writing, speaking, family, and community.
In May 2001, Glenn suffered an injury to his spinal cord, resulting in the paralysis of his lower body. Drawing on his personal experience, he authored an article titled “Realizing What You’re Made Of,” which was published in March 2007 in the Harvard Business Review. In May 2017 he published his first book, Pushing the Edge of Thought, Possibility and Action – Questions and Insights from Everyday Life.
Glenn Mangurian can be reached at: [email protected]