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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

Symbols of Racism in the School Quad

On November 15th, 2022, the community of Saratoga-Campbell was jolted by the information that dark-complexioned dolls hung by nooses around their necks, were discovered in the quads of three public schools: Redwood Middle, Prospect High, and Saratoga High. 

 “When we returned to school on Monday we saw nothing. We got to know about the incident through a note sent by the administration,” Arshi Chawla, a member of Saratoga High’s Anti-Racism Task Force, told India Currents. The incident occurred on a Friday night (November 11), and the schools informed students after the weekend.

Anti-Racism Task Force, Saratoga High School.jpg (Image courtesy: Ritu Marwah)

“We know where it happened. I saw a group of people gathered around a ladder propped up outside Mrs. Kramer’s classroom,” said Raghav, a Redwood Middle School student, describing the scene where a dark-skinned doll had hung, it’s head in a noose.

Racism is not a Joke

At his school said Raghav, students had shrunk away into their classrooms with awkward smiles and an air of nonchalance. They tried to play it off as a rude prank. 

“Just like when a student is rude to a teacher and you know it is not funny, but you still laugh like it is a joke,” he said. 

“We did not talk about it.” Raghav looked embarrassed when asked about the reaction of the only black student in his grade. “We are not going to ask him about it. It is too personal.” He shrugged off the incident. “I have never experienced hate. This is SARATOGA! We have such a mixed-race culture here.”

At Redwood Middle, another student, Allison, said that her parents were worried and wondered, “how far will they go? ”

The school administration was quick to react. 

“A noose is a reprehensible symbol of hate and violence,” said Ken Geisick, Saratoga Union School District’s superintendent, in a statement issued immediately on Nov. 16. Authorities launched a hate crime investigation. The sheriff’s office described the incidents as “heinous acts,” and that they are taking these cases seriously. 

A Diverse School District

In the diverse community of South Bay’s Saratoga, where the median income is 200,000 and the median house price is worth 2 million, 43 percent of the population is foreign-born. 

Residences located in Saratoga feed into two high schools – Saratoga High and Los Gatos High. Saratoga High is over 60%  Asian and Los Gatos High is over 60 % white. Redwood Middle feeds into Saratoga High. Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union High School District is listed as the top three school districts in California by Niche

Student Enrollment in Saratoga School District (image courtesy: Ritu Marwah)

Why Parents Stayed Silent

While staff, students, and authorities at the schools openly condemned the incident, Saratoga parents remained unexpectedly silent.

“In Redwood Middle School, a parent meeting previously planned [prior to the noose doll incident] suddenly saw no attendance from parents after the incident. The subject was not discussed,” said Chani Modi, President of PTA Redwood Middle School, to India Currents

Redwood Middle School PTA President Chani Modi in her home in Saratoga, Calif. on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India
Redwood Middle School PTA President Chani Modi in her home in Saratoga, Calif. on Dec. 21, 2022. Photo: Sree Sripathy for India Currents/CatchLight Local.

“They perhaps think there is little they can do about the incident,” surmised Modi. Though several Asian parents had called Modi to discuss another issue – the resignation of music teachers – when it came to racism on campus, school parents were strangely reticent. 

“My mother saw the email from the school about the incident. She asked me about it and then just raised her eyebrows with a disappointed look,” said Raunak, a 7th grader at Redwood Middle.

Kaasha Minocha, the former news/ entertainment editor of Saratoga’s school newsmagazine Falcon, explained that apathy from parents may stem from a lack of understanding of the symbolism of a noose. Perhaps many immigrant parents cannot fully comprehend the pain attached to the n-word, a homophobic slur, or a lynching threat. In their newly adopted nation, they may be disassociated from the history of pain that generations of Americans have internalized.

“In most cases, students better understand the symbolism of a noose more than our parents do because we have read about it and our curriculum exposes us to black history including slavery, Jim Crow laws and segregation in the 50s and 60s,” said Minocha, who graduated in 2022.

Lack of Understanding

“My mom doesn’t understand the issue. I mean she knows it is bad, but she doesn’t get the issue,” said a middle schooler who speaks Mandarin at home. “She is not from here. She did not grow up in the US.”

“My parents? Oh, my parents did not understand the gravity of the whole incident. My parents grew up in India. They are not exposed to everything we are exposed to in school regarding black history,” said Shreya Rallabandi, a member of Saratoga High’s Anti-Racism Task Force. 

Immigrant families well on their way to achieving the American dream may perceive and interpret racist acts differently from their own children, who learn about racism and segregation at school. Among Indian families, racism often is a taboo subject. So, to them, acknowledging a racist incident may mean admitting the shame that their first-generation children are still outsiders in their new homeland, despite their parents’ economic success.

Who are the Culprits?

The perpetrators were caught on the school’s CCTV reported NBC. “Surveillance photos show what the district is calling two persons of interest.” Photographs of the suspects were shared by the school and in an article on Nextdoor, a community news app.

“Hanging a dark-skinned doll on a noose doesn’t equate to ‘something not nice’. That equates to a hate crime,” said Rebecca Andreasen to her neighbors on Nextdoor.

“This is shocking and terrible,” responded Carmen Tan Miller, another resident.

No one has come forward to identify the suspects. ​​”I don’t know why these schools were targeted or if it was an inappropriate prank, but it really shook our community, as any forms of racism and hatred have no place at our schools or in our community,” said  Tanya De la Cruz, the district’s first public information officer (PIO), a position created this year by the school district to improve communication with the community.

Pictures of potential suspects were taken around 9:15 p.m. Friday. Photos purportedly showing suspects in a hate crime incident on the Saratoga High School campus, November 11, 2022. (image courtesy: Ritu Marwah)

Racism Spews on Social Media

Students at Bay Area schools took action in response to the racist venom that exploded on the Internet, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the BLM movement that followed.

Saratoga High School Anti Racist Task Force (image courtesy/ Ritu Marwah).jpg

Four students at Saratoga High formed the school’s first anti-racism task force to create awareness and address hate speech flooding social media.

At Los Gatos High, the El Gato News reported the appearance on Instagram of KKK’s “Los Gatos chapter” touting “Stop the white genocide!”

“An account with the username @lghskoolkidsklub (Los Gatos High School KKK) surfaced on Instagram,” warned El Gato News. The report identified links being actively circulated to other schools, such as @whskoolkidsklub (Wilcox High School KKK), @harkerkoolkidsklub (Harker KKK), and @shskoolkidsklub (Saratoga High School KKK).

Picture of hate messages on Instagram targeting schools in El Gato News (Image courtesy/ Ritu Marwah)

The Instagram post invited students “to attend a “KKK Rally,” reported El Gato News. It included a threat that read, “This is not a joke. If those animals want a race war, the side with guns will obviously win[,] and you can guess which side that is haha. It will begin soon… be ready.”

The private account which has since been taken down was one among several other “KKK” pages targeted toward Bay Area students.

Picture of a KKK Rally invitation targeting schools in El Gato News (image courtesy/ Ritu Marwah)

Encounters with Racism

Hate crimes continue to occur in the Saratoga school district.

On Halloween, Nov. 1, 2021, EL Gato News reported that surveillance cameras caught three different groups painting hateful, racist, antisemitic, and homophobic slurs on Los Gatos High walls, smashing pumpkins, and then filming their handiwork with their cell phones.

Los Gatos High’s Chemistry teacher Ken Porush was one of the victims targeted in the hate crime. He told the Saratoga Falcon that he believes that these incidents reflect a larger issue that transcends campus grounds into the general community.

According to the Mercury News, Los Gatos Mayor Marico Sayoc, a woman of color, faced aggressive verbal attacks from an anti-vaccine and anti-LGBTQ group who identified themselves as supporters of former President Donald Trump. 

In a cell phone video, they told the Mayor, “We don’t want you here. You need to leave this town.”

Racism has No Place in the Community

Source: tweet by Assemblymember Evan Low

In a statement to the California Legislature. Assemblyman Evan Low condemned the attacks, stating that hate has no place in the community.

“Bullying, harassment, and intimidation at public meetings are absolutely unacceptable on their own, but we were horrified to learn that the mayor—the only person of color on the Town Council—and her family have also been targeted away from Town property. This is especially alarming in light of the spike in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic.”

A Symbol of Exclusion

Dana Henderson who was born and raised in Saratoga said on Nextdoor that she saw this coming.

“I saw the changing demographics over the last several decades and figured it was going to happen sooner or later as the Right unleashes the worst part of society.”

But that malevolence, says Rallabandi, reveals itself in more complex and quiet ways at her school.

“You will not find explicit hate crimes or physical violence. The reality is the way the racism manifests in the community is very quiet.”

The noose, a symbol of racial hatred with deep roots in segregation, sends a deliberate message of exclusion, Wendell Stemley, director emeritus of the National Association of Minority Contractors told the Post after nooses were found on construction sites.

“The mission of the noose isn’t that ‘I’m going to hang you at lunchtime.”

“The mission of the noose is that you are excluded.”

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India Currents’ Stop The Hate campaign is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by India Currents do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government.

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Ritu Marwah

Ritu Marwah is an award-winning author ✍️ and a recognized Bay Area leader in the field of 🏛 art and literature. A California reporting and engagement fellow at USC Annenberg’s Center for Health...