Education Commissioner Apologizes For Racist Joke

A state's education commissioner apologized for a racist joke against Native American's that drew in criticism.

By Jessica Marie Baumgartner | Published

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Racism has become such a serious topic that everyone is under scrutiny. It is no longer considered enough to be against racism. Teachers, businesses, and politicians are pressed to be openly anti-racist activists. This has led to a wave of allegations that public figures are “racist,” highly impacting comedy, and the public’s interactions with one another. Now, yet another education professional is under fire for telling a “racist joke,” but it’s not just a teacher, it is the education commissioner for the Kansas public education system.

For 40 years Randy Watson has dedicated his career to educating students from all walks of life. In February this education commissioner spoke at a conference and told a joke addressing people’s apprehensions of tornadoes in Kansas. “I had some cousins from California. They were petrified of tornadoes,” he stated. “They’d come visit us, you know, in the summer. They were like, ‘Are we going to get killed by a tornado?’ And I’d say, ‘Don’t worry about that, but you got to worry about the Indians raiding the town at any time.’ And they really thought that. Grow up in California, I guess you don’t know much of the history of Kansas.”

It took time for a video of the comment to spread, and outrage against the joke has just now finally sparked enough attention that tribal leaders in Kansas, and even the Governor, asked Watson to step-down from his position. On Tuesday, the education commissioner apologized. He admitted that he “hurt people,” with the things he said. 

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Not a single student has come forward to claim that the education commissioner caused them distress. Not one lawsuit was filed against him for harassment regarding the remarks in question. Though many may now question Watson’s sense of humor, very few people are noting that as often as “racist comments” or “racist jokes” are decried by politicians and individuals, this case — like many — doesn’t offer a single instance of actual harm being measured and recorded, or even reported. 

Upon further examination of a joke — something that is never meant to be taken seriously — only two interpretations can really be derived when analyzing the comment in question. Either Watson is actually afraid of Native Americans, or he was using the fact that Native American tribes are honored and respected in current American culture, and therefore people who fear tornadoes truly are wasting their concerns. Just supposing that the education commissioner honestly believes that Native Americans are a threat, history does support the vaguely unfunny literal meaning of his joke.  

education commissioner

The ancient Comanche Tribe inhabited Kansas, as well as other parts of the United States. They were warmongering people who sought conquest. This included the destruction of other Native American tribes. They mercilessly killed their victims, butchered babies, burned enemies alive, and raped and disfigured women. This was all hundreds of years ago, and so of course holds no bearing on the present or how modern Native Americans should be treated, but it is a history that is being currently suppressed by anti-white sentiments which fight to punish white people for the crimes of their ancestors, ancestors who were no different than any other ancient people. Knowing this gives much more weight to a joke about how tornadoes are less bothersome to Kansas residents than Native Americans. The education commissioner himself may not even know this history because it has been downplayed in favor of racially-biased stereotypes like the “noble native.” 

Whether Randy Watson told a “racist joke,” to purposefully hurt students or not is uncertain, but most long-term educators do not rise to a position like education commissioner without public scrutiny. If he were a truly racist and harmful person, one would think his behavior would have revealed this sooner in his 4 decades-long career. Watson apologized and the Kansas board of education itself deemed that a suspension would be punishment enough for telling an insensitive joke.