During our 23 years living and working around Washington, DC, we spent time in Leesburg, the county seat of Loudoun County, Virginia. Amy frequented a “warehouse” mall of stores operated by Saks and other luxury retailers and I wrote about a story about a bar that catered to bikers with a statuesque blonde bartender with a tattoo on one arm that read “Harley-F–king Davidson.”
Leesburg, named — of course — for Robert E Lee, is a county with Civil War history and changing demographics that brought large million dollar homes in gated communities. A car dealer sold “pre-owned” Ferraris, Porches, and an occasional Bentley or Rolls Royce.
The county, we found, was a mixture of Rednecks and Yuppies. It is also a place where racism still exists.
Jimmy Galligan was a senior last year at Heritage High School, a public institution with an outstanding academic reputation with students who went to colleges and often returned to work in high-tech or government positions in Washington.
Galligan is the son of a mixed-race couple with a White father and Black mother and he often asked teachers and administrators to deal with the widespread use of the “N-word” he hears in classrooms and hallways in Loudoun County schools.
Nothing changed and Galligan admits anger and frustration and both of those feelings grew after a three-second video was sent to his smartphone while sitting in class last year. It showed a white classmate, a pretty blonde cheerleader, uttering the slur while looking and smiling at the camera.
The video pissed him off. He decided to hold on to the video and see if it could help change things in Loudoun County.
The young, popular cheerleader with the foul mouth, was Mimi Groves who, like Galligan, was a senior in the 2018-19 school year, and planned to excel in competitive cheerleading. She had applied to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and hoped to join the reigning national champion, collegiate cheer squad.
Her efforts brought acceptance at the university and the cheer squad. She was happy and her parents celebrated and announced it on social media. About a month or so later, protests swept the nation after the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by police, and Groves posted on Instagram a call to “protest, donate, sign a petition, rally, do something” in support of Black Lives Matter.
That post brought an angry response from someone she didn’t know who posted “you have the audacity to post this, after saying the ‘N-word.’ “
Turns out Galligan had posted the video of Groves using the slur earlier that day and it went viral on Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter. Teenagers around the country used that video to “call out” their peers for racist behavior and set up anonymous pages on Instagram, including one in Loudoun County. Instagram was where the original video had appeared last year.
The contradictions between the call out for support of Black Lives Matter and the video using a despised racial slur brought calls to the University of Tennessee about why they would use a “racist cheerleader” on their squad the following year.
Said one such message:
It didn’t take long the plans of Groves to vanish.
Reported The New York Times in its Dec. 26 edition:
The consequences were swift. Over the next two days, Ms. Groves was removed from the university’s cheer team. She then withdrew from the school under pressure from admissions officials, who told her they had received hundreds of emails and phone calls from outraged alumni, students, and the public.
The Times said Groves “was among many incoming freshmen across the country whose admissions offers were revoked by at least a dozen universities after videos emerged on social media of them using racist language.”
“It was just always very uncomfortable being Black in the classroom,” said Muna Barry, a Black student who graduated with Ms. Groves and Mr. Galligan. Once during Black History Month, she recalled, gym teachers at her elementary school organized an “Underground Railroad” game, where students were told to run through an obstacle course in the dark. They had to begin again if they made noise.
The use of the slur by a Heritage High School student was not shocking, many said. The surprise, instead, was that Ms. Groves was being punished for behavior that had long been tolerated.
Loudoun County has some of the richest suburbs in America and a study commissioned last year by the school district found “a pattern of school leaders ignoring the widespread use of racial slurs by both students and teachers, fostering a “growing sense of despair” among students of color, some of whom faced disproportionate disciplinary measures compared with white students.”
The report continued:
It is shocking the extent to which students report the use of the N-word as the prevailing concern. School system employees also have a low level of racial consciousness and racial literacy, while a lack of repercussions for hurtful language forced students into a “hostile learning environment.”
The Virginia Department of Education found the students at Heritage High School are 50 percent White, 20 percent Hispanic, 14 percent Asian-American, eight percent Black and six percent products of a mixed-race couple.
Galligan told the Times that a student made threatening comments with slurs about Muslims in an Instagram video. He showed the clip to the school principal, who dismissed it as “free speech.”
“I just felt so hopeless,” he told the newspaper.
Groves said her video with the racial slur was a private Snapchat message to a friend when she was 15, more than two years before it surfaced last year in an Instagram message to Galligan.
“At the time, I didn’t understand the severity of the word or the history and context behind it because I was so young,” she said in an interview with Dan Levin of The New York Times. She added that the word is “in all the songs we listened to, and I’m not using that as an excuse.”
Galligan said he posted the video of Groves’ use of the slur because he felt such behavior should bring consequences. He is now a freshman at Vanguard University, a conservative Christian college in Orange County, California. Groves is taking online classes at a community college close to Leesburg.
“If I never posted the video, nothing would have ever happened,” Gallivan told Levin. “I’m going to remind myself you started something. You taught someone a lesson.”