Since bigotry stems from ignorance, education is key


Amanda Cassel, Assistant Editor

Whether it was intentional, they shouldn’t have saluted Hitler in the first place. The fact that it was intended as a joke does not excuse it.

My phone blew up with horrified messages: “How could he do such a thing?” “Is he actually racist or just really dumb?” “How could he get caught on camera heiling, he’s got to have SOME common sense…”

My initial reaction was that it couldn’t possibly be true. My friend from camp — and all of the boys in his class at Baraboo High School in Wisconsin — couldn’t have been caught on camera saluting Hitler. I thought he knew better.

Someone must have spoken up and said that it was ridiculous, anti-Semitic and just moronic. They needed to think about what their actions meant, but they didn’t because of their ignorance. Whether you are a stranger, acquaintance or friend, you should hope for education and exposure rather than punishments that will influence them for the rest of their lives.        

He told me it was an accident. He said the photographer told the group to wave and then told them to make an excited fist. The boys noticed how the photographer got stuck in the middle of the two gestures, so they made a joke about saluting Hitler. In the next photo, nearly all of them “heiled.” They thought they were so clever. The cameraman didn’t have a clue they were making fun of him. The picture was snapped. Before they knew it, it was national news.

People on Twitter commented that they should have their scholarships and acceptances to colleges revoked. One awful but stupid and thoughtless action spread on the internet and will now stick with them forever.

“I don’t understand what I’m getting blamed for,” my friend said. “The camera man shouldn’t have taken that picture.”

He and his classmates are rightfully being blamed for doing something anti-Semitic. While they intended it as a joke, it certainly didn’t come across that way. Even if they weren’t malicious, they still acted in a way that looked like they were. They need to know why it was inappropriate instead of just suffering punishments that will influence the rest of their lives. College opportunities may be their only chance out of the small town of Baraboo for exposure to diversity.

Punishing to this extreme of a degree will hurt more than it will help. The potential sense of justice will not last. The boys will grow up to be angry and bitter about the things they did in their youth, and more importantly, they won’t have learned a lesson. They will continue to hold on to the stereotypes and ignorance they have now.

A nationwide survey showed that 22 percent of millenials are unsure if they have heard of the Holocaust. The data also revealed that almost one-third of the respondents believe 2 million Jews were killed in comparison to the 6 million that were actually killed. This means that most respondents did not see the impact and significance of the death toll of the Holocaust.

The events in a Baraboo, although seemingly isolated, are not unique.

In the Lab community, we are privileged to be constantly exposed to discussions about diversity and it is something apparent and on our minds. I wish students in towns like Baraboo, with a 90 percent white population, had a chance to engage in similar discussions. The main reason this incident happened was not because the boys are racist but because they are ignorant.

They are high schoolers and have whole lives ahead of them. They need compassion and support and exposure to diversity to make sure they put the right foot forward.