Pillars of the community: Racism, rape culture and the superintendent

My local paper, The Daily Local, took the unusual step this Sunday of putting its lead editorial on the front page, at the top. “Coatesville Area School Board must step down,” the headline said, referring to that board’s failure to act decisively in response to the scandal roiling the school district neighboring ours. That scandal is outlined in the accompanying A1 story by Local reporters Michael Price and Kristina Scala, “A District in Crisis: CASD officials exchanged racially charged text messages; board knew.”

The abrupt departure of the Coatesville Area School District superintendent and another senior administrator came two weeks after numerous exchanges of inappropriate and racially charged text messages were discovered on their district-issued cell phones, and multiple sources have indicated that school board officials were not only aware of the exchanges, but were prepared to allow the pair to remain in their positions until the conduct prompted a criminal investigation, the Daily Local News has learned.

The Coatesville Area School Board is expected to formally vote to approve the resignations of former Superintendent Richard Como and former Director of Athletics and Activities Jim Donato at Tuesday’s public meeting. Como announced his “retirement” through a letter posted on the district’s website on August 29. Reports of Donato’s resignation surfaced several days later. Both came unexpectedly during the first week of the school year.

“Racially charged” is a too-restrained euphemism. The texts exchanged by Como and Donato were simply racist. And sexist. The superintendent and athletic director expressed gleeful contempt for black students, all females, Jews, Hispanics and Muslims.

You can read a transcript of some of those texts here. The Local has posted those transcripts with a warning about “strong racial language that readers may find offensive.” That warning is, again, inaccurately understated. It’s not “strong racial language,” it’s just racist language and sexist language and anti-Semitic language. And it’s not something that readers may find offensive, but something that is offensive.

Former Coatesville Area AD Jim Donato, left, and ex-Superintendent Richard Como walk the sidelines during a Coatesville football game last season. (Daily Local file photo by Tom Kelly IV)

The local firestorm over this has focused on the giggling racism exchanged by Como and Donato, and that’s understandable. But the misogyny and rape language is just as disturbing, and it’s woven throughout their “conversations.” Their standard term for female students and teachers is “piece” and they’re seething with resentment that, as white men, they’re denied the free use and abuse of women’s bodies in the way that both seem to think is their entitlement.

For Como and Donato — two of the highest-paid executives in charge of the Coatesville Area School District — women are not people. African Americans are not people. Jews are not people. Hispanics are not people. Arabs are not people. (That last one seems to have brought on their encounter with karma, as the texts were discovered by “a member of the district’s IT department,” who seems to be the same person they ridicule in their texts with the usual anti-Arab slurs.)

The Chester County DA is conducting an investigation into what, if any, criminal charges may be brought against the two officials. Criminal charges will be the least of the school district’s problems. Richard Como has been the CASD superintendent since 2005, and his texts with Donato include discussions of the hiring and firing of teachers, with the two celebrating the layoffs of black staff as “good hangings.” Every teacher, coach and administrator in the district who was laid off or denied a promotion in the past eight years now has powerful grounds for a winning lawsuit.

One of the transcripts between the superintendent and the athletic director is of the texts they exchanged while apparently watching the Miss America pageant on television. I saw dozens of articles and posts collecting and condemning the horrifically racist and sexist tweets sent during that pageant, but now I think I underestimated their meaning. I assumed these were the ravings of the ignorant and the powerless — people whose racial resentment was in part the result of their own powerlessness and economic insecurity. But Como and Donato are wealthy, educated people. (Como’s starting salary in 2005 was $155,000 a year. By 2010 that was up to $193,000.) And yet their texts expose them as miserable creatures of resentment.

This is how two wealthy, powerful, educated white men talk when they think no one else is listening. That’s not just something that you “may find offensive.” That’s something that you should find terrifying.

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  • Fusina

    Ah. When I was a child, I was warned against homosexuals because all of them were (and the sound trak here was the DUN dun DUN of mysteries being revealed) pedophiles. I got to know them, and it wasn’t true of any of the gays I hung out with–not many that I was aware of, this was well before people were coming out in droves. Finding that one thing told me wasn’t true led me to investigate. And I decided that not only is it not my business what consenting adults get up to in private, mostly I don’t want to know ;-)

    And yeah, kids and sex–most of them are very much of the “Yuck, I’m never doing that” camp. And I like your goats analogy–good un. And I have to admit that it doesn’t seem to matter what gender a pedophile is looking for, until puberty most kid bodies look very similar, so it would seem to me to be a non-specific gender attraction. Or something. And a very bad thing. When I was a child I was sexually abused by a neighbor, so I know whereof I speak.

  • j_bird

    It’s especially funny since the accusation happened after Fusina quoted *facts*. Don’t let your facts clutter up my beautiful, open mind!

  • Abby Normal

    I remember reaching a certainage–younger than 14–when my friendsand I first picked up swearing and we swore about every other word (out of adult earshot, of course) because it made you feel like such a badass. (That’swhy the South Park kids don’t sound all that unrealistic to me.) That’s kind of what these guys sound like–all swagger and trying to look cool.

  • Yeah, I agree that’s entirely in keeping with the behavior of 14 year olds. My friends cussed a lot too.

  • And once upon a time, it was almost Nixoncare too. If our healthcare system is the Greatest In the World, you’d think the president who signed it into law could be trusted to improve on it, eh? (Try not to drown in the layers of irony, sarcasm and fail.)

  • dpolicar

    I’m sorry that happened to you… no child should ever have to suffer through that. Really, no person should.

    And yeah, I’m pretty sure my dad was of the “all gay people are pedophiles” school as well, though we never discussed that explicitly. (He died before I came out to my family.)

    And go you for taking the evidence of your own experience seriously in the face of contrary assertions by authority. It’s rarer than you might think.

  • Fusina

    I can’t take full credit for that. I was outcast, and therefore gravitated to those who were also outcast.

    In good news I have been invited to attend a wedding, a guy I dated very briefly in high school, we were friends before and after–he is now out and getting married. So I am making a couple of the bead sets as a wedding present–along with a gift certificate to a gaming shop as he is also a gamer.

  • Except that the set of people who are 14, have been 14, or will be 14 covers the vast majority of the human race, and also that there is hardly anyone who is a 14-year-old who will not some day cease to be a 14-year-old.

    This is not true of Koreans.

    I point this out because claiming that insulting teenagers is OMG JUST THE SAME as racial slurs makes you sound like a 14-year-old who is an asshole.

  • If I’d wanted to interact with other human beings, I wouldn’t have gotten into video games.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    That first bit reminds me of a line from Robert Anton Wilson: “It only takes 20 years for a liberal to become a conservative without changing a single idea.” As far as I can tell, Wilson elucidated the principle behind the Overton window well before Overton really codified it (Wilson wrote that line in 1980 and Overton came up with his idea in the mid-90s, though it wasn’t named after him until after his death in 2003), but was perhaps overly optimistic about it…

  • Joykins

    Those texts were nearly incomprehensible except for the slurs. If I had to guess the age of the texters without context, I would have guessed about 16.

  • The_L1985

    “Also, I thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.”


  • FearlessSon

    It’d actually be kind of funny if somebody turned the tables on Fox News and accused them of advocating “political correctness” the next time they get angry at someone who’s pointed out the flaws in the system.

    I am just going to leave this here.

  • Ian

    Bigots aways find ways that their particular bigotry is different, defensible, and that people who point it out are unreasonable. Nobody thinks of themselves as a bigot. I’m sure the people in the conversation cited above don’t think of themselves as bigots either.

    If there’s one thing that you can *guarantee* is that if you point out agism, ableism, sexism, racism, homophobia whatever kind of blanket derogation you like, you’ll always get three things in response: special pleading, personal insults, and a doubling down on the bigotry.

    Its also remarkable how often bigots think that calling you a member of the group they are phobic of is an insult: I’ve been called a queer, a girl and a nigger before.

  • Kagi Soracia

    I consider myself fairly fluent in text speak and I couldn’t make head or tails of a lot of it. Holy crap. It was barely English, that’s for sure.

    From a linguist point of view, it almost reads like idioglossia. Their own private language or dialect they only use with each other because they’ve been having these kind of conversations so long that they can encrypt, abbreviate, contract or leave out a large part of it, combined with their own idiomatic constructions and expressions they’ve developed.

    Which is, probably, an even scarier thought.

  • LoneWolf343

    What if I just find it infuriating?

  • AnonaMiss

    Yeah, I think Lori nailed it. Politeness encompasses more than just being considerate – it also includes bits of form like how you hold your fork. If you call it “considerate”, they have to display empathy. If you call it “polite”, it’s just a rule they have to follow, which short-circuits the “but I can’t/don’t want to/shouldn’t have to consider the feelings of a person who XYorZ!”

  • That sounds like you’re conflating etiquette in with verbal rules, but overall I agree. You can be “polite” regardless of your true feelings. All it takes is omitting certain words. Even better if you know a few special words and phrases you can use which cue in other people to your thoughts without actually speaking them aloud…

  • chgo_liz

    Excellent point!

  • chgo_liz

    One of the things that drives me crazy on this subject is that our current reliance on private insurance is detrimental to small entrepreneurial companies. I predict that many more small businesses will be created after the ACA is in full effect….because the founder(s) can finally afford to take the risk, and their job offers can be more competitive to attract good employees. Right now it’s too much of a gamble to quit a job at a medium-to-large corporation (which provides health insurance, unlike most small companies).

    In other words, the Republican party is antagonistic to a significant percentage of U.S. businesses. The party reserves all its love and support for industry leaders instead.

  • chgo_liz

    One common medical issue for women which results in years of “strange symptoms” that don’t make sense is thyroid dysfunction. I’d recommend that when the clinic takes blood for a CBC, ask them to do a TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) test as well.

    Good luck!

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    “Cheer” as in Bounce Those Boobies and Jiggle That Booty?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    It isn’t just online gamers. Back in the Seventies when D&D was the province of geeky white boys, you heard a LOT of horror stories of female gamers trickling into the NO GURLZ ALLOWED gaming groups. Including setting up and forcing no-escape Gang Rape scenarios for the female gamers’ characters. With the consent (and participation-by-character) of the other gamers in the otherwise all-male group.

  • This must be where F.A.T.A.L. got its fanbase.

    (If you’ve never heard of it, I don’t recommend googling it. It’s a tabletop game with an emphasis on being as offensive as humanly possible.)

  • Fusina

    That would have been my guess–although since that was back when I was built much like my daughter is now, there would have been precious little bouncing and jiggling on my part. I was a late bloomer, you see.

    This incident probably has quite a lot to do with my hatred of misogyny, actually. I mean, unless the guy just wants a blow up doll to have sex with, muscle tone for women is necessary. Either that, or the guy was really into jellyfish big time…

  • Fusina

    The three points I listed above are now my arguing positions–if I ever get sucked into another one. The one that I like the best of the three is the one that I hear the most–eg, that people are being “forced” to buy insurance. Yes, yes they are…at what I understand are affordable rates for them, and discounted for people who are at or below poverty level…or, and this is more to the point, insurance companies are being compelled to cover everyone. As someone with major depression and a lot of other mental health issues, I am very glad about this, as it means if something happens and I have to get my own insurance, I have a good chance of getting some. Either that, or I move to Canada or Great Britain. So God save the Queen, eh?

  • Caroline Dye Chapel

    I would absolutely love a rainbow prayer bead set. Do you make them in any particular format? I’m partial to the Anglican “four weeks” style, myself, but I’ll take them as you prefer to make them.

  • Fusina

    As a matter of fact, they are the Anglican style–Would you prefer jade or crystals, and cross or other?

    email your address to fusina at verizon dot net.

  • http://rackjite.com/web/ebook.htm

    And I leave that here. :)

  • Caroline Dye Chapel

    Done. check your email :)