Amara Ifeji and Ijeoma Obi, who recently graduated from Bangor High School, dealt with racism throughout their high school years at the predominantly white school. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Kudos to the BDN for exposing racism in Bangor High School and for following up with an editorial.

I am appalled that these black teens have been the subject of cruel racist taunts, name calling and verbal attacks by white classmates. This nastiness goes beyond typical childish name calling and should have been stopped long ago and parents contacted.

There should be zero tolerance in any school for racist behavior. If even a small number of white teens are wearing Confederate symbols and defending slavery and white supremacy, something must be lacking in the school department’s culture and possibly in the curriculum.

Hate is a virus. If this is happening in Bangor, it probably happens in other Maine schools, and not just high schools. And I suspect that children of Maine’s native tribes also experience taunts and prejudice.

I am now retired, but throughout my years of teaching in Maine I, along with my colleagues, participated in many workshops and classes to improve skills and learn new techniques and even attitudes. Nothing was mentioned in the editorial or in news articles about cultural orientation and training for Bangor High students and staff. Have schools with changing populations adopted programs to address racial and cultural sensitivity? Are students of all ages being encouraged to be culturally self-aware? To learn about others’ cultures? To appreciate our differences and common humanity? If not, the National Education Association and various educational companies offer resources to assist school districts in creating cultural sensitivity and understanding.

Maine is becoming more diverse every day. We cannot turn back the clock, and we will be richer for the newcomers. When Quebecers immigrated in the 19th and 20th centuries to work in the textile mills, they and their children faced prejudice and hatred. They were eventually accepted, and their culture has enriched the state.

So too will our new Mainers be assimilated, but it should not be through pain and distress. Everyone has subtle insensitivities and prejudices, most ingrained from an early age. Let’s welcome people of color, people from other states, other countries with heart not hate.

How regrettable it is that two of those graduating seniors are leaving the state to attend prestigious universities, saying although they love Maine, the trauma of high school was too painful to return. Maine needs bright young people to remain, to work and start businesses and to raise their children here. We shouldn’t be driving them away. Training programs in all school districts can enrich us so we can truly be Maine, the way life should be.

Susan Vaughan of St. George is a retired teacher and an author.