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Montana High School Superintendent Won't Even Accidentally Apologize For 'Accidentally Offensive' Racist Video

Post-Racial America

Last month, freshmen at Valier High School in northern Montana released a video to "inspire enthusiasm" for their big homecoming game against rival school, Heart Butte High. One "enthusiasm-inspiring" scene showed a girl wearing a "feathered headband, braids and a red skirt" falling to her apparent death in the snow after being shot. When the video was posted on Facebook, there was immediate outrage. Valier High School Superintendent Julie Gaffney called all the fuss "unfair, unwarranted, and inaccurate." Oooh boy.

Montana has one of the largest populations of Native people in the US. Heart Butte High is on the Blackfeet Reservation and all but two students are Native. Valier High is outside the reservation and predominately white. Gaffney explained that each class makes theme videos for homecoming, and the freshmen's theme this year was the Revolutionary War. Valier represented the freedom-loving, slave-holding colonists, and Heart Butte was cast as the smug, tea-guzzling British. Valier students dressed in "traditional Native garb" to portray the Heart Butte Warriors. If the students weren't aware that red dresses have become a symbol for missing indigenous women in the area, at the very least their teachers should've known that British soldiers did not wear feathered headbands.


Regardless of the racial dynamics, it's absolutely bonkers that Valier would produce a video that depicts a student's murder. School shootings are so commonplace nowadays students are trained to duck and cover from bullets. But Gaffney regrets nothing.

GAFFNEY: You can't control how people take things.

This is a popular asshole mantra. However, over time, human civilization has developed something called "communication." We express ourselves through words, actions, and murder videos. We're responsible for what we put out there. If we offend someone, we won't explode if we apologize.

Valier rocked by controversial school video www.youtube.com

I recently saw Seattle Public Theater's production of "The Thanksgiving Play," a clever send-up of over-the-top "woke" culture. The humor is rooted in white people's clumsy efforts to navigate sensitive racial issues. Olivia Reingold's Yellowstone Public Radio interview with Gaffney is more farcical than Larissa FastHorse's play. As clueless as the characters are in "The Thanksgiving Play," they at least care about not insulting Native people. They might fail but they at least try. Gaffney prefers to just stand her ground. All that matters is "intention," which she knows was benign or at least not actively malicious.

Reingold tried to coax an apology out of Gaffney for the video's "accidental offense." That's a ridiculous term but I get why Reingold used it. Gaffney won't apologize because no one set out to deliberately make a racist video. But maybe she can feel just a little sorry for "accidentally" offending Natives. She presumably says "excuse me" when her shopping cart bumps into someone at the supermarket.

REINGOLD: I think that [an apology] is something that is within your control. Is that something you would be interested or doing or saying?

GAFFNEY: I think I expressed myself very clearly how I felt in the article that I wrote.

REINGOLD: OK, and I guess just to confirm, there's no apology in here.

GAFFNEY: You can't put in the paper that I said, "No, we're not coming forth with an apology." That's just to me is not…

REINGOLD: Well, please help me understand.

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GAFFNEY: What I believe is, I let the stakeholders understand.

What's with the corporate speak? This is probably the worst time for Valier High to have an IPO.

GAFFNEY: And so, to me, the only people that I really need to be answering to would be the students at Heart Butte and the best vehicle for that, I feel, is to give our students an opportunity to at some point process this.

This woman just refuses to say she's sorry. It's such an obvious and easy solution. Kevin Smith even apologized for making Mall Rats and there was no racism in the film just Shannen Doherty. Heart Butte Superintendent Mike Tatsey reportedly sent an invitation to Valier to arrange a meeting between the two student bodies. Valier hasn't responded, not even to send their regrets, which I guess they don't have.

The Valier students are kids, so I'm not going to bash them too hard for producing a video that's poorly lit and a little racist. But the supposed adults at Valier deserve our full contempt. When McClain High School students in Greenfield, Ohio, held up a "Trail of Tears" banner before a football game against the Hillsboro Indians, the administration expressed genuine remorse. No one died as a result.

[YPR via Anne Helen Petersen]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.

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