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After a black student faces racial slurs, some wonder: Will OC ever change?


Watching his son play basketball at Laguna Hills High School, Terrell Brown couldn’t shake a feeling of unease.

He’s felt it before in Orange County, where he and his family are often the only black people in a room.

Fans of the home team, the Eagles, and the visiting Portola High Bulldogs slammed their feet against the wooden bleachers and screamed. It was a type of energy that often makes the game exciting. But the mood was off, Brown recalled.

He was soon right. Her son, Makai, became the target of racial slurs shouted from the stands by a Laguna Hills student.

A video capturing the slurs during the January 21 basketball game sparked widespread outrage. The family was interviewed by Don Lemon on CNN. A group of local businessmen gave Makai a $20,000 scholarship.

Makai Brown, center at Portola High, celebrates with teammates after defeating Irvine High on a senior night.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

But Brown and others wonder what will change in a county where racial taunting of students of color, especially at sporting events, still occurs with alarming regularity.

Brown, who moved to Irvine from the Atlanta area about four years ago, said overt racism from the South is in some ways more manageable than racism from Orange County.

“The microaggressions here are worse,” Brown, 48, said. “The guy with the Confederate flag, he’s letting you know he’s a racist. He’s very clear. But here, you don’t even know.

For black people, life in Orange County can be especially difficult. They represent 2% of the population of a county where whites are a minority and two-thirds of the inhabitants are Latino or Asian.

With all the noise from the crowd, the Browns didn’t hear the insults at the time. Makai, 17, a senior point guard at Portola High, discovered them the next day while studying game footage.

“Where is his…slave owner?” Who freed him from his chains? Who let him out of his cage? It’s a monkey! the student shouted as Makai fired free throws.

For several days, the Browns dealt with their shock and pain mostly alone.

Then Makai’s mother, Sabrina Brown, posted the video on Instagram. It has been viewed over 171,000 times in just over a week.

Makai Brown runs in the field.

Makai Brown runs in the field.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“Laguna Hills Boys Basketball fosters a culture of aggression, unsportsmanlike conduct and RACISM! And this needs to be brought to light and stopped,” Sabrina Brown wrote on Instagram.

The student who shouted the insults was counseled and disciplined. But some say Laguna Hills High administrators have a history of not taking such incidents seriously.

Brian Hosokawa, 39, president of the Portola High women’s basketball club, posted footage of the incident on YouTube and began streaming it a day before Sabrina Brown made it public on Instagram.

The administrators of Laguna Hills High asked him to remove it.

The video “will only complicate matters for them in their investigation and ensuing disciplinary action,” Portola principal John Pehrson wrote in an email, forwarding the request to Hosokawa. “They’re afraid this video might distract from other things they’re trying to do as they go through a process of making things better and dealing with individuals.”

Hosokawa refused. People need to know what happened if similar incidents are to be avoided, he said.

Makai Brown warms up with his teammates.

Makai Brown warms up with his teammates.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

“As a country, we’ve let racist incidents be handled quietly for far too long,” said Hosokawa, whose maternal grandparents were among the Japanese Americans unjustly sent to government incarceration camps. American during World War II. “Their immediate response when they found out the video had been posted was to try to bury it. It’s part of the toxicity of the culture. That’s why these things keep happening. For every one of these incidents filmed, there are thousands that are not.

Laguna Hills High principal Bill Hinds did not return a call seeking comment.

Last May, during a volleyball game at Laguna Hills High, another black athlete was heckled with racial slurs by a student spectator.

The student yelled at Jonathan Coleman, a black outside hitter from Burbank High, to “go back to the plantation” and called him the N-word and a “cotton picker,” Coleman’s mother, Lorri Hubert, said.

Laguna Hills High officials have vowed to investigate. Ultimately, according to Hubert, they said students interviewed after the game denied making the remarks.

No one from Laguna Hills High ever called to apologize, Hubert said.

In recent years, students have expressed anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-Latino and anti-gay sentiments at other high schools in Orange County, including Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Harbor and San Clemente.

Hubert said listening to Sabrina Brown talk about what happened to Makai brought her back to that gym.

“I cried when I heard it. I didn’t sleep all night because I had chills all over my body,” she said. “Part of the exact same language that was spoken to his son was told to my son. And now they’re sorry? It could have been avoided.”

State Sen. Dave Min (D-Irvine) said Orange County has come a long way from its past as a bastion of white conservatism.

Incidents like these are a step backwards as the county becomes more diverse and progressive, he said.

“I wouldn’t be elected if it was still Orange County,” said Min, who is of Korean descent. “The county is changing, but unfortunately we still see feelings of that old, ugly specter of hate that comes up from time to time. But we won’t be going back. »

To change a culture that allows racist behavior, school leaders need to educate students on how to respond, rather than simply punish perpetrators, said Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“It’s about the larger environment,” Levi said. “This person was shouting racist obscenities throughout the game, but what were the people around the individual saying? Were they doing nothing or participating? There’s a bigger culture on these campuses that needs to evolve.

After the student launched his racial invective at the Laguna Hills High basketball game last month, another student replied, “You always say the craziest s—, bruh.”

In addition to disciplining the student who hurled the slurs, school officials informed students who witnessed the incident of their responsibility to “redirect such language” and report it immediately to administrators.

They also discussed how to make changes with players, coaches, and student government officials.

For Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, that’s not enough. She has received numerous complaints about the athletic culture of the Saddleback Valley Unified School District, which includes Laguna Hills High.

“I request SVUSD to investigate the coach and other staff regarding their involvement in incidents like this and offer appropriate action taken,” Khan said in a letter to the school district and the school district. Laguna Hills City Council.

When Terrell Brown left Atlanta, his job as a regional manager for a tax preparation company allowed him to settle almost anywhere in California.

Makai Brown, right, in a match against Irvine High.

Makai Brown, right, in a match against Irvine High.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Sabrina Brown, 44, a registered nurse, chose Irvine because of its high-performing schools.

Their friends in Atlanta – a city with a large black middle class – were in disbelief. Some said they would never let their children go to school in Orange County because of a history of anti-black racism.

But the Browns forged ahead with a focus on the best education for Makai and her younger sister.

Makai Brown wants to study sports psychology at UCLA.

At Portola High, where he also plays baseball, most of his teammates are Asian, but there are also two other black players. He loves high school, which he says is the “best in Irvine” — and one where classmates and teachers treat everyone with respect.

“When I first watched the video, it was a first shock,” he said. “After a while, it wasn’t really surprising anymore. You shouldn’t say those things anyway, but the fact that he said them in a game out loud and on camera and no one said anything – none of that makes sense for me.

A week after the game at Laguna Hills, Makai arrived at Portola High for the final regular season home game against Irvine High.

It was seniors’ night, when future graduates and their families are honored.

Makai Brown receives an award.

Makai Brown receives an award and a check for $1,000 from trainer Brian Smith.

(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Under an arch of purple and silver balloons, Makai stood next to his parents and sister as he received an award for courage – a check for $1,000 from a local business.

A group of local businessmen surprised him with a $20,000 scholarship, an internship with a sports agent, and individual basketball coaching.

“I couldn’t allow this to be Makai’s last basketball experience, so I called my super friends to change the narrative,” said JJ Jones, an Orange County businessman and mentor. .

At first, Makai didn’t think posting the video would make a difference.

But the support he received from teammates, classmates and members of the community made him think change might be possible.

“I’m starting to understand that the way we deal with this, spread it, maybe it can help other people or at least inspire people to not just sit and let this happen and do nothing about it. subject,” he said.




Los Angeles Times

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