Racist and anti-Semitic photo on social media met with some rebuke from community, apology from two individuals in image | TheUnion.com
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Racist and anti-Semitic photo on social media met with some rebuke from community, apology from two individuals in image

Sam Corey
Staff Writer

In the early hours of May 26, 2019, five young men — all Bear River and Nevada Union high school graduates — took a photo, which was posted recently on social media.

In the image, they made Nazi salute signs while some wore Ku Klux Klan type of hoods.

The group was drinking and partying, and someone thought the idea would be funny, according to Randy Schluter, who was in the picture.

But after the photo was recently posted on Facebook, without the knowledge of the men in the photo, rebuke swept across the internet and Schluter ­— as well as Keaton Kirby, who was also in the photo — publicly condemned their own and their friends’ actions, taking responsibility for what they did, saying it was wrong and that never should have happened.

“I apologize for what I did and that’s what I can do,” said Schluter. “I can’t take the picture away, I can’t take it back. I can only learn and grow from the situation.”

Kirby agreed.

“I’m sorry to everyone I offended,” he said, “I’m sorry to everyone I hurt. The biggest thing I’ve been trying to do is listen to what others have to say.”

Growing up in Rough and Ready, Schluter said he remembers very limited experiences with black people, and that he didn’t have a good understanding of racism growing up. He said that he has no problem being educated further about the dynamics of racism in America and participating in relevant trainings as well. Schluter also said he supports the ongoing peaceful protests that advocate for racial justice. He apologizes for the stain the anti-Semitic and anti-black racist image has left on Bear River, Nevada Union and the greater community.

“I didn’t think about how it would affect people’s perspective of Nevada County,” he said.

Ana Mendez Mora, a Sierra College student and graduate of Nevada Union, has been active in the racial justice protests and said the photo is “certainly not surprising.” Mora said she’s seen similar photos crop up in the area for years without any condemnation occurring from community residents.

Going forward, she said, high school students need to be better educated about non-white history and learn from perspectives of people of color to understand entrenched racism, which begins in the past and bleeds into the present.

“We’re missing important parts of our history,” she said, noting that many mistakenly think, “‘It ended. We had our civil rights, we’re good now.’”

Kirby said he remembers racist actions occurring at his high school of Bear River as well, and once recalled encouraging someone to take down a Confederate flag that they were waving in the school’s parking lot.

STATEMENT

Nevada Joint Union High School Superintendent Brett McFadden strongly condemned the actions of the five men, and made a statement last week supporting justice for George Floyd — the black Minneapolis man who died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for over eight minutes. Structural and individual racism, McFadden said, is a deep part of our history and our present.

“We, like other public institutions in this country, have a long way to go before all aspects of racism, direct and indirect, are eliminated in this district,” he wrote to the community. “However, I can ensure our community, and especially those students and families of color, that our board of trustees, district staff and leadership, (that) I remain firmly committed to fundamentally changing individual beliefs and institutional systems that continue to condone and support racism in our community.”

When similar racist photos have appeared on social media, McFadden said he and his team have a discussion with the individuals involved, but that legally there’s not much administrators can do. Still, he said people should not be quiet in the face of racist actions like the recent social media post.

“Silence is just as strong a statement as that post was,” he said.

After the district issued its statement, McFadden said that in addition to a few racist replies, two dozen students and families of color thanked him and told them they have felt “isolated and threatened” in the community.

While it has not yet been determined how, the superintendent said he intends to redirect resources to specific programs that reform the local culture, and to stymie the racism that is part of the national culture and its institutions.

“I don’t believe we as a community have begun to address these issues in a concerted effort,” he said.

AVENUES TO CHANGE

Schluter said he’d thought liberals and leftists were dismissive of those they disagree with, but after the photo was posted, people on the left reached out to him, both to condemn his actions but also to hear his perspective.

“Seeing all these people who’ve talked to me and hear me” helped him acknowledge his wrongdoing, he said. Schluter also referenced Daryl Davis, a black musician who has reached out to Ku Klux Klan members, befriending them and thus convincing 200 to jettison their white supremacist ways.

Kirby said he’s trying to reevaluate what he can do to change himself and others around him. He met with other friends in the photo last week to discuss their actions and how they can better themselves.

“I can’t sit idly by and expect others to change if I don’t change myself,” he said.

Kayla Koontz, a 2013 Nevada Union graduate currently living in Virginia, said she only realized how ignorant she was on topics of race and racism when she moved to San Francisco. She said the lack of listening to and seeing non-white people in Nevada County is a detriment to the local culture, and leads people to believe they are doing something OK even if they aren’t.

“Because Nevada County is overwhelmingly white, people don’t have to think about these things,” she said.

Koontz, who saw the photo online, said she wasn’t terribly surprised that it stemmed from Nevada County residents, noting that seeing the Nazi salute or Ku Klux Klan supporters “definitely wasn’t uncommon” at Bear River or Nevada Union. She’s pleased that many people have been condemning the photo, but is upset that others are defending the men in the picture or are staying silent on the matter.

Koontz said recent video footage of brutality targeting black Americans is helping more people understand the deep structural racism that persists in this country.

“Black people are screaming at the top of their lungs that something needs to be done,” she said.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email scorey@theunion.com or call 530-477-4219.


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