South Dakota High School Cancels 40-Year Tradition of Annual Event That Includes...Wait for It...a 'Slave/Branding Auction'

Illustration for article titled South Dakota High School Cancels 40-Year Tradition of Annual Event That Includes...Wait for It...a 'Slave/Branding Auction'
Photo: Ingo70 (Shutterstock)

I used to argue that the Dakotas didn’t actually exist because I’d never met anyone from North or South Dakota, and I just kind of ignored the existence of Mount Rushmore because IDGAF about sculptures of white men who enslaved and/or didn’t care about Black people. But now, I’m thinking I don’t know anyone from the two states because I make it a point to avoid the world’s whitest white people. In fact, it turns out that they’re so unreasonably white in South Dakota that a small town in the state is just now ending a 40-year tradition of holding mock slave auctions organized by a local high school.

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The Washington Post reports that the Faith High School Rodeo Club in Faith, S.D., was planning to hold its annual fundraising event on Monday. The event includes a pancake dinner, a pie auction and—sorry, I just need to check my notes real quick to make sure I have this right—a “Slave/Branding Auction.”

Now, I don’t think we need to worry about actual negroes being auctioned off as slaves at this event, only because I feel like only about nine Black people have ever lived in South Dakota, and none of them are among the fewer than 500 residents of Faith. According to The News & Observer, the free labor that is auctioned off at the events may include everything from “waiting tables to hauling hay or moving cattle.” (I mean, I’m pretty sure this is the plot of the movie City Slickers, but whatever.)

Still, this is pretty fucked up, and Glenda McGinnis—whose Community Action Club owns the town’s Legion Hall where Roots-but-with-white-slaves was set to take place next week—is apparently so unconscionably white that she had no idea what the big deal was after advertisements for the event were posted to social media and she was flooded with calls by people wondering “how such a racist and hurtful name could be used in 2021.”

“I thought it was a joke,” McGinnis told the Post. “We have the event every year, for about 40 years now. I even got a call from a local cowboy who said, ‘How’s this going down? It’s not right.’ I told him we weren’t doing anything wrong. And he explained, ‘Well, it’s how it was advertised that’s wrong.’ ”

Forget raisins in potato salad; these people are so white they put potato salad in their raisins.

“I didn’t even think of ‘slavery’ in racist terms,” she continued. “It’s just kids work for free to raise money for their club. Now I see; this is a very bad choice of words. But I’m naive enough, I guess.”

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Nah, she wasn’t being naive; she was just being white.

Actual slavery happened in this country for the better part of 300 years and I’m sure plenty of white people at the time didn’t think of it “in racist terms,” they just knew rich white people were lazy AF and the cotton wasn’t going to pick itself. Hell, even now, there are white people out here arguing that the three-fifths compromise was really just a wholesome gang truce between white northerners and southerners and not a racist agreement that erased two-fifths of Black humanity.

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This is why white people shouldn’t be allowed to be arbiters of how racism works.

Anyway, the event was canceled for this year, and I’m assuming it won’t be back until organizers have rebranded it with the new name: “Sharecropping Fun With Jim Crow and Kids.”

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From the Post:

McGinnis said the Rodeo Club’s adviser called her Wednesday afternoon to cancel the event. The club adviser didn’t return calls for comment.

“We had to get all those posters down around town,” said McGinnis.

Many in the area are still stunned it happened in the first place.

“Slave auction? Branding? It’s hateful, racist, and we’re calling it what it is,” said Julian Beaudion, an African American state law enforcement officer who is part of the Coalition for Justice and Equity, which addresses criminal justice issues in South Dakota.

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Damn, there’s a whole Coalition for Justice and Equity in South Dakota? OK, I might be wrong—maybe like 12 Black people live there...if it exists.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons

DISCUSSION

“Nah, she wasn’t being naive; she was just being white.”

One of my best friend’s mom (and my boss at a high school job) was from South Dakota. She said she was 24 years old the first time she saw a real live Black person. Where she came from, it was impossible not to be both white and naive.