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'We want them charged': Philadelphia community reeling after racist video from Catholic school students goes viral

Protesters stand outside of St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls in Philadelphia on Wednesday following the release of a racist video from students. (Jasmine Payoute/Twitter)

Philadelphia’s largest all-girls Catholic school is embroiled in controversy this week after a racist video from students made the rounds on social media. Protesters took to the street outside of St. Hubert Catholic High on Wednesday morning.

“I watched and I was completely confused that we still have so much blatant racism in 2023,” said protest organizer Adam McNeil, who was joined by several parents of students at St. Hubert, which is predominantly White.

“We want them charged. This is a hate crime. This is ethnic intimidation.”

The video, which was sent by the students to their classmates and eventually made it to various social media platforms, features a White student spraying an unknown substance on another who is in blackface, while uttering offensive anti-Black comments.

“You’re a Black girl! You know your roots. It’s February! You’re nothing but a slave,” the first student says.

The student in blackface responds, saying “I’m Black and I’m proud!”

It was later revealed that one of the students seen in the video attended Franklin Towne Charter High School and was expelled following her identification.

“Franklin Towne is a school that values inclusion and will not tolerate hate in any manner,” the school said in a statement.

“The former student who took part in this video, and any other students who may choose to participate in this type of behavior have no place at our school. The content of this video does not reflect the values and culture of our Towne family.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia has not publicized details of any similar expulsions and did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but did release a statement to CBS News (a modified version of a release from St. Hubert administrators).

“Those allegedly responsible are not present in school and are being disciplined appropriately,” the archdiocese noted.

“The school and the Office of Catholic Education are conducting an ongoing review.”

The archdiocese also noted that the school had received “reactionary general threats” in the days since the video was released, leading to increased security presence on the St. Hubert campus from the Philadelphia Police Department.

Parents of affected students at St. Hubert are said to be planning another protest for Friday, and it is unclear whether their efforts will be hampered by the law enforcement presence.

The Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP has announced plans to draft a letter urging the school to beef up its Black history curriculum, and its leaders have spoken publicly on the racist video with strong words.

“The video… is totally unacceptable. To say this act was done in jest is not only appalling but shows us the continued cycle of racism that we are constantly fighting against,” said chapter president Catherine Hicks.

“We are calling for Saint Hubert School to address this and ensure action takes place immediately. The Philadelphia Branch NAACP [is] available to work with the school administration and the Archdiocese for a solution.”

It is extremely disheartening to have to address this, especially during the observance of Black History Month, that...

Posted by Philadelphia NAACP Branch on Wednesday, February 8, 2023

One of the Blackest major cities in the country, Philadephia is home to a significant Black Catholic population, including numerous historically Black parishes. Even so, the region has been host to a number of racist incidents at the predominantly White local Catholic schools, including a previous social media racism scandal in 2021.

That incident, involving Archbishop Ryan High School, also featured a White student in blackface using offensive language (including a racial slur). The school had previously been designated by the Anti-Defamation League as a “No Place for Hate” participant, which involves a student club challenging “antisemitism, racism and bigotry in all forms.”

In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the principal and president of St. Hubert noted that similar efforts were underway at their school before this week’s incident.

“We are seeking additional support from [the ADL] at this time and are also seeking resources from the Archbishop’s Commission on Racial Healing,” they said in a two-page update to a statement released on February 7.

As of Thursday morning, Archbishop Nelson Pérez has not personally commented on the racist video or its aftermath, with his last official communication coming last month to announce the creation of a Visioning Committee on Catholic Education.

“Catholic education has always been a vital ministry of our local Church,” he said in the January 19 statement.

“Through our Catholic elementary schools, high schools, and schools of special education countless children and young people have been formed as young men and women of character.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger and a seminarian with the Josephites.

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