November 22, 2016
“I’m sorry. What was that again?” Jeremy Heworth asked, taken back a little. He sat in his office, across from Rita Billings, the principal of a small, local high school, and Kathy Coughlin, the head of their PTA. Zach Wells, his paralegal, leaned in the corner, his mouth covering his face, his eyes raised as he stifled a smirk.
Kathy sighed. “Hey, Indians, hear our cheers, get ready for a trail of tears,” she chanted obligingly. Jeremy stared at her for a cold, long moment.
He took a deep breath. “And you didn’t see any problems with that?”
“It may have been pushing it, but it was all in good fun. At least, until this lawsuit,” Mrs. Billings said.
“I’m not sure joking about genocide can be seen as good fun.”
“You think we crossed the line?”
“No, no, no,” Jeremy said, shaking his head and leaning forward in his chair. “The 1950s called. They think you crossed the line. I’m not sure you even know where the line is.”
“With all due respect,” Kathy said, inserting herself back into the conversation, “we were playing a team called the Indians. What were we supposed to say?”
“Go. Fight. Win. Beat the Indians. Literally anything other than what you said.”
Kathy sighed. “We wanted to customize our chant to our opponents.”
There was a long pause. From the corner, Zach, no longer able to contain himself, suggested, “We are people, we are white, we’ll fuck you up and take your shite?”
“Do you mind?” Mrs. Billings said indignantly. “We are a school. I’m not sure profanity is appropriate?”
“But blatant racism is?” Zach asked. “I feel like you may have lost the moral high ground here.”
“Zach, enough,” Jeremy said.
“In our defense, this whole misunderstanding was based on ignorance,” Mrs. Billings said.
“Right. Of course,” Jeremy said reflexively. Something hit him. “Ignorance? Aren’t you a school?”
“Dispelling ignorance is kind of your raison d’etre. I’m not sure you can use that as an excuse.”
“You’re right, but what’s done is done. Will you take our case or not?”
Jeremy took a deep breath. “The plaintiff is…”
“An Indian boy who says he was made to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome by the whole thing.”
“And you’ll pay by the hour?”
“And you know I’m probably going to recommend you settle?”
“Believe me, we want to get this resolved as soon as possible as well.”
Jeremy took a deep breath. “Then yes. On one condition.”
“Can you use the term Native American? At least until this case is over.”