LEWISTON – Since the presidential election Nov. 4, the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence in Portland has received calls from schools about an increase in racial slurs and jokes among students.

Center Director Steven Wessler said Tuesday that the “disgusting” slurs were directed at President-elect Barack Obama.

In response, the center plans to send guidelines to all Maine schools on how educators should respond. “We have started conversations with people in the schools, Wessler said.”

The racial slurs have nothing to do with politics, Wessler said. Some jokes involve images of violence such as lynching, he said.

On one hand the fact that the United States elected a black president is a “wonderful message about how far this country has come in race issues,” Wessler said, adding that the vast majority of Americans were happy to witness history. The perpetrators are a small minority.

“The fact that the leader of the country is going to be a black man gets them angry,” Wessler said. “They have a tremendous amount of insecurity, a tremendous level of bias.” They keep up the racism when they get peer approval. “That’s why we need to speak up,” he said.

“Language like this is never static,” he said. “Unless schools and communities react by saying this is inappropriate, some get the message from silence that this is acceptable.”

Regardless of political affiliation, Maine people need to say, “We don’t use racial slurs against anybody. And we certainly don’t use disgusting, violent, racial slurs or jokes about the man who’s going to be president of the United States,” Wessler said.

It isn’t only school kids who are offering racial slurs or faulty attempts at comedy.

The Oak Hill General Store in Standish put up a sign inviting customers to take part in an “Osama Obama Shotgun Pool” for betting on when President-elect Obama would be assassinated.

Since the story was reported Sunday about the store sign, Standish Town Council Chairman Wayne Newbegin said the town office has received a lot of e-mails and phone calls.

People were upset that it could happen in the town of Standish, Newbegin said Tuesday. The sign’s message didn’t represent his town, he said. “We didn’t think we had people here like that.”

The store’s owner is Steve Collins, the Portland Press Herald reported on Tuesday. On Monday the store was closed. A “Gone Fishing” sign was on the door. The Town Council will meet next week and talk about how to respond, Newbegin said.

On Tuesday three state lawmakers, Sen. Bill Diamond of Windham, Rep.-elect Mike Shaw of Standish and Rep. John Robinson of Raymond, were sponsoring a resolve that states the people of Standish and Maine reject acts of racism and threats of violence.

In Gray-New Gloucester, a student was suspended after he unleashed a tirade of racial slurs the day after the election, according to WCSH TV. Racial slurs were also found in the boys’ bathroom of the school.

In Mount Desert Island, black figures were hanged by nooses from trees, the Bangor Daily News reported.

Edward Little High School Assistant Principal Leslie Morrill said Tuesday that educators in Auburn have noticed an increase of racist jokes and slurs since the election. “Some kids hear it at home and repeat it,” she said. They are being told at school that it’s not acceptable.

For many students, there’s a sense of pride that Obama won. The school voted for Obama in its mock election. But from some, “we hear inappropriate jokes,” Morrill said.

The school’s staff met Monday to talk about how to respond, as did members of the students’ civil rights group, the Unity Project.

“We’re working hard,” Morrill said.


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