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Racist remarks within the troop

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I need some advice on how to handle a situation in our troop. Allow me to provide you with some brief background. Our troop is all white, with the inclusion of one black scout, whom I will call Joseph. Joseph has been in the troop for nearly 2 years, and was in my Cub Scout pack for the two years prior to that. His father is in jail for shooting his mother and grandmother (both survived). It was shortly after this that he joined as a Webelos. He is a walking example of the scout law: Reverent, Loyal, Trustworthy, Kind, Obedient; he lives by this at meetings and in his daily life. He serves as patrol leader and, unlike most others in the troop, takes his responsibility seriously. He is the only scout in the troop to have not missed a meeting (or outing) this year. With 3 more Josephs, I would have the best troop in the council!(I hope it is obvious to everyone that I am very proud of him.)


Last night, after the meeting, I received a call from Joseph. He was upset and said that he was loosing interest in coming to the meetings because many of the boys were teasing him and making racial slurs. In the 4 years I have known him, I have never heard him make a racial or counter racial remark, so I took this very seriously. I was devastated, and it really shook me. I told him that I would not tolerate this behavior in the troop, and that I wanted to sit down with him (and will tomorrow evening) to discuss details of what was said and by whom. He had called me on my cell phone and I was driving, so I tried to reassure him and said we would speak Wednesday. When I got home, I called to speak to his mother, whom I know and trust. It was she who insisted that Joseph call me, and I was glad that she did. She said he had been visibally upset and not himself; I do notbelieve he would have called without her encouragement. I told her how I was going to proceed and when Joseph and I would be meeting to discuss the details. I know he will be reluctant to be specific (and embarrassed), but I asked her to encourage him to be open with me on this.


Joseph did suggest who was making these comments, and I was not surprised. (Allegedly) It came from two of our older life scouts, one of whom is the SPL. These two can be casually insensitive at times, though I do not believe maliciously so. Regardless, I take this very seriously, and I feel I should act swiftly, and decisively; but I feel it needs a measured response. I know it will be tomorrow night before I get all the details, but please give me advice on how strong a response I should have. Should it just be a stern SM conference? Do I need to involve the committee? Should I discuss this with the boys parents? Is it acceptable to just nip this in the bud, so to speak, or should I act more strongly? I look forward to your advice and insights.

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First and foremost, all your actions in the coming days have to have a single clear message: Racial insults are simply not acceptable, they will not be tolerated, and the consequences increase with each incident.


You're doing the first right thing: Gather the information. Learn the facts of the matter.


I think a quiet word at this point, in gathering information, is in-bounds for both the SPL and the other: "Joseph called me and said he suddenly felt unwelcome within the Troop. What do you think could have caused that?"


If the SPL ponies up and goes contrite on the spot, then you've got one path to resolution-- friendly, courteous and kind. OTOH, If the SPL goes to the other extreme, and says something out of bounds, well, loyal and obedient will be themes later. I'd expect, though, the answer will be somewhere in the middle.


Once you've decided how big the issue really is, you can craft your response.

- At one end, several Scoutmaster minutes on bias and prejuidice may get thoughts in motion. SM Minutes probably should be part of all solutions, btw.

- In the middle would be Scoutmaster confereneces, only involving the youth who "did it."

- Going more extreme, asking to visit with the Scout and the parent, and lay it on the line.

- If the incident was beyond the pale, contact the CC, strip the POR, and have the CC call a Board of Review.


Somehow, I think your heart knows most of this, and you're seeking confirmation. Let us know how it unfolds. :)

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I think that getting the story straight and talking with the offenders is the right first step. I think that they may have not realized that what they were saying was offensive. There is so much disrespective lyrics in music they may not of thought of anything different. If this is the case, and they are truly sorry for the misunderstanding, then ask them to make a personal appology. Does not have to be public, just a simple, "Sorry Joseph, didnot realize that we offended you and we hope that we can put this behind us" That may work wonders.


If it doesn't, try to the death to keep Joseph in. He obviously has gotten something out of scouting and enjoys it. Use the SM Minutes like John suggested. Revisit the Code of conduct if your troop has one, the Scout Law, and gneneral harassment and discrimination topics.


There is no room for bad blood in a troop. I think that this may have been something that was not said with offense meant, or maybe something said in a snap. I think that if you ask your SPL he may realize this. But you know him better. If there is still a problem, then it may be time for a new SPL who can Follow the Scout Law.


My Two Cents

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I have two black scouts in my troop, and have found out the hard way that not only is the "N" word offensive, but simply calling them "boy" causes trouble. I, as a white adult, never thought of this, especially one who grew up in the deep south and heard adults say this of all the kids. I was as likely to get a "Boy, go do this" or "Boy, get a brain" as any other, white or black. But blacks really dont like that. When one of our dads came on a campout, and sait this to one of our black scouts, wow, what a mess. I don't think the dad ment it as a racial slur, but there you go. I hate it that sometimes I have to walk on eggshells with my words, but I figure "why cause a problem where one does not exist."


I would interview the "alleged" offending scout , and the offended scout, and determine if a racial slur was intended, and warn the speaker. I would assure the black scout that he is a valued member of troop, and give a SM minute sometime on a black hero as a role model.


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I like J-K/C's suggestions. I'd like to mention another take on this.



Racism is an extreme example of bullying, putting someone "in their place". What you may have is a couple of Scouts who are jealous of another boy's success and are "putting him in his place" with the most obvious technique available. Call him a name (snicker snicker), watch him squirm, maybe get a rise out of him that they can further expoit.

And what's your take on the SPL's parents? Very often the boy only reflects the family values, regardless of the Scout values you, as SM, have been teaching.


Like J-K/C says, ""First and foremost, all your actions in the coming days have to have a single clear message: Racial insults are simply not acceptable, they will not be tolerated, and the consequences increase with each incident.""

And support Joseph in his desire to not return like for like. You obviously have his mothers respect.

I think it was Gandhi who observed that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth soon leads to a blind and toothless world.


You, and others in the Troop (you do have "backup", yes?), must be firm in your stand. Doing what is right is right. Golden Rule. Duty to God. Loyal. Friendly. Kind. Brave.


You know the rest.


Thank you for your example.




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Most often I have found that a lot of older teens know that what they are saying is offensive, but they might not know what it actually means or why it offends, and so they don't really "get it." A little history lesson can put things in perspective and sometimes will wake a kid up to just how deeply insulting his off-handed comment actually was. You might get a response like "wow, I really didn't mean to suggest...xyz. I won't ever say that again, I'm sorry." Anyway that has worked for me on occasion. Of course it depends a bit on what was said too.


That might help if the boys are basically good kids from families that don't promote racism. On the other hand, if they're typically mouthy and uncaring brats with racist parents, well then good luck (but I'd wonder how they got to Life and what one is doing as your SPL in that case).


In addition to all that John suggested, I would also say that those two older scouts now bear a heavier burden to make Joseph feel that he is indeed welcome. Make this clear to them and ask them how they're going to accomplish this. Don't provide them with easy answers - make THEM squirm a bit while they think this through. Sometimes part of being a leader is recognizing when you've failed, and figuring out how to start to make amends. That's a valuable lesson for your SPL too.



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Thank you all for your kind responses and support. As many of you said, I should take a stance that this shall not be tolerated, and I cannot agree with you more. I also appreciate the level at which you suggest I respond (not react). Not yet having all the details, I cannot exactly say what the response will be, but will be direct. This not an issue by which I mean to polarize the troop, its members or its supporters.


Interestingly, 20 minutes before Joseph called me, I was talking to him about working with a Webelos den (as a Den Chief). This particular den has a 50/50 mix of white/black boys, and I felt his example was one by which all the entire den could learn and be proud. I noticed immediately that he was distracted and I tabled the discussion, suggesting he think about it and we could discuss it at a later date. I now understand his distance.


It has been suggested that the offending scouts may not have had ill intent, and I believe this is likely true (I do not like to speculate like this yet, as I still do not have all the details, so ultimately, this remains to be proven). Though this is a different ball of wax than intentional malicious slurs, it deserves as swift a response, and needs to be halted directly; yet I do feel that these scouts should be made keenly aware that, regardless of intent, this behavior can be very damaging. SSScout brought up that this is a form of bullying, and I had that thought last night (thinking about the post of this title in Working with Kids). And I am considering handling this as a case of bullying. Any additional comments on this would be insightful.


As for the offending scouts, I would describe both as suburban middle class or better, and I am unaware of any overt racism at home. One of the boys has had a uniquely difficult family life (details would be inappropriate), and he holds a lot of anger (understandably, given his circumstances). As such, I do not want to further alienate him by over-reacting, but neither do I want to let him slip off without consequences. I feel I have little wiggle room with him.


And I appreciate the concern expressed about the possibility of losing Joseph. I think that we do run the risk of losing him, but only if we ignore or mishandle the issue, and that is something I will not allow to happen. As soon as I have the facts secured, I will quickly assess the situation (and the damage) and work to resolve it. We have a special meeting on Wednesday and we have a hike this weekend. I will attempt to resolve this before the hike, so there are no problems on the trail, but I will keep an eye on things as we move along.


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"I think it was Gandhi who observed that an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth soon leads to a blind and toothless world."


Years ago up north, a mentally-challenged Assistant Scoutmaster flung the n-word at our SPL, and the SPL simply punched him square in the face.


I interviewed the SPL, the ASM, and then all the black and white Scouts present. Everyone agreed that the matter had been settled to their satisfaction.


We never had a problem with the n-word again.


I hope that helps :)





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My own sons are from a mixed b/w racial background, although most of the other boys are not aware of this (you wouldn't immediately notice by looking at them, and their biological father has never been around the troop). Until recently, they were the only not-completely-white boys in the troop.


We had one situation on a weekend Scout outing where one of the boys who has some challenges (A.S.) started using a racial slur over and over. My son asked him repeatedly (maybe 10 times) to stop using that word because it was offensive. I don't remember which word it was, but it was getting an obvious reaction out of my son, which I think is why the other boy wouldn't stop. This boy is actually a pretty good friend of my boys, but he has his moments where he likes to cause problems. My son eventually lost his temper and pummeled the offending boy. (No injuries were reported on either side).


I and the other boys' mom were both there, heard the whole thing, and were standing back to see how the kids would handle it. The other boy's mom asked me to please not discipline my son in front of hers; she felt it would compromise the natural lesson he learned that there are limits (even among friends) as to how annoying and offensive you can get just because you're in a bad mood. I had a talking-to with my son about not responding with physical violence no matter how annoyed you are, but I did it in private. They boys all continue to be close friends (as I am with the other boy's mother). Now my son was not in a position of leadership at the time... they were all pretty young / new scouts.


Anyway, I think it's important not to underestimate teenage boys' abilities to move past even major disagreements and reestablish friendships. If either boy in the situation I speak of had been in a position of troop leadership, I think it would have been appropriate to remove them from that position (my boy for striking, the other boy for making the offensive remarks). I don't know whether that's the appropriate response in your situation or not. If the SPL intended to use these remarks to hurt, and it wasn't just a slip of speech like allanger referred to, then you might need to consider whether the SPL is mature enough to be setting the behavioral example for the rest of the troop at this time. Even if he's remorseful, you might consider removing him from the SPL position for a time.


I think that if the offending parties are really sorry, it would be wise to limit the damage by not informing the rest of the troop of what's going on. ("Johnny is no longer able to serve as SPL for the next three months, so we need to hold an election to see who will take his place..."). Facilitating reconciliation among just the boys involved (and any others who witnessed or got drug in by accident) would prevent the problem from spreading or resentment building among the other boys. On the other hand, if it was done in front of the rest of the troop, and everyone's already aware of it, it should be dealt with somewhat publicly as well. It would be important that nobody gets the idea that someone "got away" with this kind of behavior.


Good luck. What a tough situation to have to deal with.



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Yah, lots of good advice here.


Only thing I would suggest is that you not treat it as a case of "bullying" or not call it that to the kids at least. Sadly, "bullying" has gotten all fuddered up in kids' minds as a result of the school bullying policies and adult hypersensitivity. Like as not, if yeh start talking about "bullying" the natural kid reaction will be to roll their eyes and assume that this is just "some adult thing." Real bullying to boys means physical stuff.


Focus instead on the harm done to Joseph, the harm done to the troop, and how the boys have badly disappointed you and damaged their own reputations and the reputation of the troop. Guilt for real harm done, not automated responses based on buzzwords.




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Older Life scouts? Depending on how your fact finding mission went tonight, if there was some maliciousness involved (or not), one good life lesson could come at their EBORs. Let them squirm a little when someone sitting the District EBOR asks each of them "We heard that a few months/years ago there was an incident in your troop involving Joseph an improper comment. Can you enlighten us on this situation, how it reflects on the Scout Law, Promise, Spirit, and how you handled it in your POR at the time? What lessons did you learn from this experience? How would you handle a simular situation if it happened again involving other scouts?"


When Joseph gets to his DEBOR, maybe he can be asked about his reflections on how he handled the incident, and then praise him for his maturity in the situation, and not taking it to the next level.


They will squirm. They will really wonder if the Eagle is achievable. They will learn a very valuable lesson. If their answers are well thought out and heartfelt, the Eagle will happen.


It's happened in our District when the board has been enlightened. They have been known to ask hard heartfelt questions to see if the scouts have really changed.

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I sat down with Joseph last night. It was hard for him to talk about what was said, he kept his head down and talked softly; it took a bit of coaxing to get the story out. I made sure to commend him on his bravery, and I explained how difficult I know that decision to be to come talk to me. Afterward I thanked him for opening up and trusting me. I told him that I would deal with the issue directly, and that if there were any additional words spoken, he was to come to me and tell me right away. Our talk revealed only one unexpected fact: that it did not involve our troubled scout whom I described earlier, but his younger brother, who is First Class (eligible for Star in 28 days), as well as the SPL (Life about to begin on his Eagle, will be 18 in 13 months).


Though the statements were made callously, as I suspected, and on the surface did not appear to be malicious in nature. I did speak to our outgoing SM about this, and he revealed that both these boys had been counseled on this exact issue regarding another black boy who who left the troop 3 years ago, putting this in a completely different light.


I am considering, at this point, involving the boy's parents, and placing the boys "on notice." Bringing up the other boy, whom I did not know, and with the original occurance being handled verbally, I see no value in reviving that sepcific issue, but it does raise the bar in how I deal with these two. My thought is to set a plan for these boys before any advancement can be signed off, say 3 months (under the auspices of "scout spirit"). I am, however, at a loss of how to quantify improvement in this area. Setting a zero tolerance policy is never a good idea, in my book, but I do not know how else to evaluate compliance.


My situation is complicated in several other ways as well. First, we have a hike this weekend, and these boys will have to work together (all 3 involved are attending, as is the father of the SPL). I feel it is important to address this issue with the offending boys before we depart tomorrow night, and I will. Second, officially, as of this moment, I am not the SM. Our outgoing SM has health issues (beginning with a medical proceedure later this morning), and is a well respected mentor to all these boys. At lunch today, I will turn in the signed applications for me to become the SM and he to assume the position of ASM. Likewise, I will not be "installed" until the COH this Monday. This change is no secret, and I have been the functioning SM on 2 of the last 3 campouts, and at all the recent PLCs, and most troop meetings. Certainly, the scouts recognize me as the upccoming unit leader, but being embroiled in a situation like this right away is challenging at best.

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Yah, Buffalo, yeh need to give yourself some space and the boys some space, eh? This weekend's hike should be an absolute no-go for the two brothers involved in the incident. You call 'em up and explain that you'll meet with 'em next week, but for now they're suspended from the weekend's activity.


Joseph needs to feel safe and welcome, and yeh can't do that in a day. Those boys need to learn that there are consequences for racist attitudes, and part of da consequences are that good people don't want you around. Most importantly, it gives the lads and you some time to work through things before yeh put all three of 'em back in the mix together.


Yeh should do that right away.


Since it's a repeat offense, I'd be more inclined to make that "time off" a bit longer, eh? Along with a loss of da SPL position. Is that the example yeh really want set by your "top boy". Somethin' more than just the advancement hold.


In terms of measurable improvement, that's easy, eh? They come off your black list if Joseph is happy. If Joseph is coming on outings, is excited to be there, is feelin' encouraged by these two scoundrels, then you're over the hump.


Hate to be the bearer of bad news, though. Two brothers. Multiple incidents. This racism is goin' to be a family thing. Yeh might find that the parents aren't really supportive of your position beyond lip-service (and perhaps not even then). Be Prepared.




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I'm with Beavah: I would suspend both boys from this weekend's activities (at a minimum) and remove the SPL from his position.


Removing the SPL may delay or even eliminate his chance to complete Eagle, depending on what he's already accomplished and how long you keep him suspended. If so, oh well. If not, hopefully he'll have some time to prove himself before he gets any further.


For the younger boy, I would perhaps inform his BOR and instruct them to ask him to explain the situation. If he does not show satisfactorily that he has learned what he needs to learn from this, he should not pass his BOR and be awarded Star at this time. That will take some planning, because an action plan will need to be set in place for him as far as tangible ways to show that he's learned about "Courteous, Kind" and "Scout Spirit."


"Zero Tolerance" is not exactly the same as "Third Strike." Since these boys have already been in trouble in this area before, a no-further-tolerance policy might be in order, without having to institute a "zero tolerance" policy for the whole troop.


One thing that needs to be impressed on these boys is that these kinds of problems are not tolerated, not just in Scouts, but in most schools, workplaces, or social circles. Regardless of how they're being taught at home or how they feel inside, if they don't learn to keep their mouths shut, they will limit their opportunities for life. Unfortunately, it's not easy to change hearts when it comes to racist attitudes. But with changes of behavior, sometimes changes of heart come along eventually.


Good luck.



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