Updated: Jul 21, 2022
It’s the irony of it all. On Thursday, August 21, 2020, Sarah Paul wrote a riveting post to social media labeled “This is wrong.” Attached to her post was an image of my high school alma mater’s football team brandishing many different symbols. Symbols like the American flag, the Ohio flag, but also a string of black and white “American-adjacent” flags: including the same flag that white supremacists have nationally brandished while chanting “Blue Lives Matter” in opposition to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement. The first person to comment on her Facebook post was an extremely good friend of mine who followed by creating a petition to further bring awareness to the negative implications of the photo. And then the hate poured in.
The irony for me starts during the first week of my freshman year at Marysville High School. One of our first assignments in World Studies class was to draft a short argument about a topic we recently learned that week and have a class discussion the following day. I, being an aspiring lawyer, was bent on drafting the most compelling argument to present in class. After all, I was always encouraged, especially as a black female student, to continuously work twice as hard as my white peers in everything in order to be seen. Yet, this story is about the girl who presented her argument last, she was a girl that I had heard of but never really got the chance to talk to. Her name was Sarah Paul. In those short few seconds of an aimless classroom debate, she shined and presented an argument that was hands-down the most creative and added a new perspective to the conversation. From that point on I knew I needed to be her friend, or more so her protégé, and that is what she became for me. Later that year, we were put on the same mock trial team (admittedly, I requested on my forms that I required to work with her and no one else) and she became much more than just a mentor/teammate, she became my friend.
Throughout our time in high school, Sarah became a skilled debater. By our senior year, we became a state-qualifying mock trial team, and Sarah single-handedly became the most decorated moot court participant in MHS’s entire history. She also was my right-hand woman as my chief of staff at Buckeye Girls State, and further graced her talents at Ohio State University where she became a prominent member of the most competitive mock trial team in the state. Needless to say, Sarah knows how to argue and argue well. She knows how to speak to the unspoken perspectives. Then, conversely, there is Chase, who I became close with similarly in the classroom and is frankly one of the most hardworking, talented, and intelligent people I know. He showed me what it meant to be an outstanding student, a supportive friend, and an inspiring creator.
Therefore, I felt many things on August 21, 2020, after reading her post - and the subsequent comments - but one notable expression that I couldn’t ignore was the irony of people calling Sarah Paul and Chase Cutarelli, both MHS Valedictorians, stupid and uninformed.
The intent of the image is meant to support the community’s first responders: notably the community’s police force, fire department, and members who serve in the military. But in execution, the image not only represented the football team’s seniors but by-and-large the Marysville Exempted Village School District’s stance on what symbols they choose to be aligned with. It also is important to note that they did not actually portray any of the explicit icons of the aforementioned organizations. When it comes to supporting they have missed the mark.
I do not wish to speak for the entire POC community of Marysville, but personally speaking, I am appalled by the community of Marysville. I am disheartened by the sanctioned support of hate messages and death threats, I am disappointed by the silence of the district, and I am extremely unsettled by the blatant disregard for black voices and perspectives in the community conversation. The photographer of the now infamous image asked in a Facebook post, “When did we stop seeing things through a lens of love and just see things through a lens of hate and division?” but what she truly means is “when did we stop seeing things through a cis-white lens?”
Because if she meant anything other than that, she would know that this pre-dated “lens of love” is a logical fallacy to the average black American. In the 1600s black Americans were seen through a lens of property and commodities stripped of their identity, in the 1700s it was a lens of being only viewed as three-fifths of a human being, in the 1800s it was a lens of being pawns for political warfare and demeaned by Jim Crow, in the 1900s it was a lens of segregation to redlining to internal biases and prejudice, now in the 2000s, it a lens of prison pipelines, mass incarceration, and black women being gunned down in their own homes while her murderer evades the “justice” system. For the average black American each lens was forged by the same material that crafted the lens before it.
This is what we mean by systemic racism. This is what we hope to dismantle when we organize and protest. This is what we have been advocating for each century, each decade, for years repeatedly before the murder of George Floyd – yet what has now changed is that it took a global pandemic for white Americans to be confined in their homes to sit and hear our testimony. To be presented with a fact that many other lenses exist.
Contrary to the popular belief of news stations, like ABC 6 Columbus, speaking out against white supremacy and its symbols of hate is more than just “emotions that consume the summer.”
Sarah’s criticism was simple. First, that it is unlawful for a school to brandish politicized symbols, and second, that the image clearly does not consider, or see through “a lens,” the Black and Brown community of Marysville who harbor negative connotations with the blue lives matter and border patrol iconography. Because Sarah knows what it was like for me to be ostracized in school. Being told by a former guidance counselor that I wouldn’t be asked out to prom because I was black, being told that my academic accomplishments were because I was black, being prodded for how I spoke, did my hair and dressed, and even being told by the same people that I’m “not really black.” She added to the conversation a perspective that implored Monarchs to be more holistic, less tone-deaf, and better.
Yet what was her criticism met with by members of the community she was raised in? Death threats. Homophobic slurs. Political propaganda. Insults. Defamation. A culture of community members disregarding political perspectives and demeaning a 20-year-old. We ought to be ashamed of ourselves.
Currently, I am writing this piece from my apartment on the Southside of Chicago. It is because of Marysville High School, and the many amazing opportunities the school afforded me, that I am able to be in this position today. A student at a prestigious university. Although I have only lived in Marysville for 7 years, when people ask me where I am from I say “Marysville, Ohio.” This is because Marysville is where I spent my most formative years. Marysville is where I came into my own. Marysville is where I found the community. But I found my community among people like Sarah Paul, Chase Cutarelli, their families, and the MHS teachers. I acknowledge that the creators probably had nice intentions but as a city We. Must. Do. Better.
I especially found community among Mr. Dick Smith, a member of the Marysville School board, who taught me how to ask one simple question: “So what happens next?”
From here, I implore that people acknowledge the inherent politicization of the symbols present in that photo and acknowledge their use by neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and the like who explicitly antagonize people of color. I demand that the superintendent and all involved parties reverse the publication of the image and make public apologies for its hateful connotation. I also reject the media’s use of Robin Ansley Thompson, for being painted by the media as a one-sided-voice-of-reason savior when conversely the voices of the opposing views have been noticeably silent and not included in the media representation.
This is not what some people have called being a “snowflake.” With this immense amount of scrutiny, Sarah and Chase have been extremely strong. This is having the strength to say “this is wrong.” This is standing beside your views and being driven by quantitative and qualitative facts. This is not faltering under the weight of irony. This is combating white fragility. This is an opportunity for the Marysville Exempted School District to do better now.
UPDATE: Recent discourse has compelled me to add this analogy, I have copied my response below:
Think of the "thin blue line" flag as related to an extreme symbol like the swastika. Some have written online that “‘The thin blue line’ imagery predates any contemporary social movement” - so does the swastika. In fact, in many Indian cultures, it’s a religious sign symbolizing good luck and prosperity. Some people even hang it up in their homes as a representation of culture and with divine intent. Here’s the problem, if the school conversely starts posting images with the swastika, you can imagine the obvious outrage. This is because regardless of how you view it, that symbol has been politicized as a symbol of opposition and hate. People of the white American community have taken it upon themselves to distort the meaning of the thin blue line, detaching it from any noble stance. People who’ve “called out” the school for endorsing these symbols are not “offended” by the career of law enforcement. I personally am offended by the use of a symbol publically that is actively used by people who hold up that flag and say that people who look like me should be jailed, people who come from my background should be locked up in cages, and that black people deserve the unjust treatment. I have the utmost and utter respect for our members in uniform...who do their job well and work against their internal biases....but it’s not just enough to endorse those symbols. I am indebted to those who’ve sacrificed for me and protected me. For example, this may include an Indian-American officer, who hangs an Indian swastika in their homes, this does not mean, and will never mean, that I support the symbol because of its horrific history.