We’ve Got To Talk About This High School Slave Auction

Last week, a Northern California varsity football team held a slave auction in which Black players acted as slaves while white players bid on them. You read that right.
The Yuba City Unified School District has launched an investigation into a racist video made by football players at River Valley High School in Yuba City, California.
The Yuba City Unified School District has launched an investigation into a racist video made by football players at River Valley High School in Yuba City, California.
Illustration: HuffPost; Photo: River Valley High School

As common as racism is in America, some examples of it will always be more glaring than others — notably, instances involving minors.

Last Friday, the varsity football team for River Valley High School in Yuba City, California, forfeited a game due to the discovery of a disturbing video depicting the players reenacting a slave auction.

Before the announcement, River Valley entered the week 0-5; so while going 0-6 may not leave that much of a mark on an already underwhelming season, the more you hear about what happened, the more you might want to throw their entire season away. Which is what eventually happened.

Yuba City Unified School District Superintendent Doreen Osumi announced an investigation into the “disgraceful” video. Soon after, it was reported that River Valley varsity players would not just be forfeiting a game, but the rest of their season.

“Re-enacting a slave sale as a prank tells us that we have a great deal of work to do with our students so they can distinguish between intent and impact,” the Yuba City Unified School District said in a release, news station KRCA reported.

“The recording clearly demonstrates that this situation was orchestrated and organized, which underscores my concern that students spent time contemplating this terrible act without the slightest regard that this action is hateful and hurtful,” Osumi said in a statement. “They may argue that it was a joke, and they intended no harm, but the fact is that this is not only harmful, it is disgraceful.”

Days before this story broke, another Northern California high school, Amador High School of Sutter Creek, also saw its varsity football season canceled as the school district investigated a group chat among players with reported “racial undertones.”

“Racial undertones” is a meaningless euphemism intended to downplay words or actions that are racist as hell in nature; however, in the case of River Valley High School’s football team, there is no point in even bothering with such pretense.

A clip of the auction can be found on Twitter and anywhere else you find your casual racism.

From the few seconds we see, it’s quite obvious that the players find the enslavement of Black people to be amusing and worthy of trivialization. I look forward to hearing how this mock slave auction was planned and for how long, and what disciplinary actions will be taken against all those involved. In the meanwhile, though, I have one question: How did the Black players on the team become participants?

Based on what I’ve gleaned online, it’s something many others have wondered about, too.

My intent is to not further victimize the players.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a Black student at a predominately white school. I can only imagine what pressures — physical or psychological — they may have felt to go along with the “joke.” I’m sure many have yelled “Stockholm syndrome” in response to my inquiry already.

Still, it is very difficult to watch three Black boys stand there and allow these goofy, pathetic, little racists in training to belittle them — and be filmed doing so, no less.

None of this is technically surprising.

Plenty of white people like to play in the faces of Black people — especially about our exploitation. It is always despicable, but inherently American. Mocking Black people, disgusting as it is, is a successful model for select cable news networks and political campaigns alike. And there is certainly no age limit on racism, which is why experts have started to speak out more about the trauma Black students suffer after experiencing racist incidents at school.

It’s also not a new problem.

In 1997, purportedly in an attempt to stress the cruelty of slavery, a U.S. history schoolteacher in Torrance, California, tried to get his students to recreate a slave auction.

One of those students, then-15-year-old Natalie Jackson, refused and went on to complain to her mother, who then complained to the principal, school district and the press.

“Some say that I am overreacting, but they didn’t have this experience,” the teen told the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t want to go back to my U.S. history class, but I am going back. I am going to do my work and everything that I am supposed to do, be strong and face the music. Maybe my action will break some barriers.”

Jackson did say that the two other Black students in her class remained silent — but at least their ridiculing wasn’t recorded as content and posted online for consumption.

So while I like superintendent Osumi’s tone, I hope we find out what factors specifically led to those Black students becoming willful participants in their own ridicule. I want to know what climate was allowed to exist to the point that they allowed themselves to be filmed engaging in their own debasement. So that, in the future, the next California high school football team with a shitty record finds a better use of its time.

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