Konkrete Kids mascot has racist origins, petitioner contends

Years ago, there was a television commercial about spaghetti sauce. In it, three children answer a question: "Who makes the best spaghetti?"

"My mom," says the first. "Spaghetti with meat sauce!"

"My mom," says the next. "Spaghetti with clam sauce!"

"My mom," says the third. "Spaghetti with tomato sauce!"

I remember this commercial for one reason. A student at my college wrote an essay for the school paper, contending the commercial was racist because the two white children got meat sauce and clam sauce, and the third, who was black, merely got tomato sauce.

The writer said the subtext of the commercial was that the black child must hail from a poor family that could afford only the thin offering of tomato sauce, while the white children were well-off and could indulge in a much higher-grade sauce.

That the children were dressed alike and sitting in the same sort of well-appointed kitchen and appeared happy to the point of giddiness did not enter the calculus of the author, who had a point and was going to make it no matter what.

Until now, I regarded that essay the ultimate example of finding offense where none existed, of turning a trifle into a kerfuffle and, worst of all, misunderstanding the very nature of racism.

Then I awoke Tuesday to the news that the name "Konkrete Kids" — the 91-year-old team name at Northampton High School — was in fact a wink-and-nod endorsement of the days when the Ku Klux Klan held sway in that part of the Lehigh Valley.

This is the contention of a man from Bath named Terrance Jackson, who did what people do nowadays to effect change upon the earth. He started an online petition.

It's pithy enough: "To: Tom Corbett, Governor. Change the moniker/mascot of KonKrete Kids."

Jackson, it must be said, is not exactly playing fair. The team is the Konkrete Kids. But on his petition, Jackson made the second K in Konkrete uppercase.

Thus, KonKrete Kids.

Rendered this way, the three Ks stick out like pokeweeds on a putting green. KKK. The lynching, cross-burning, black-hating (and Jew-hating and Catholic-hating) devil-fruit of the Reconstruction South, persisting today as a bunch of sad-sack white supremacists of malformed conscience.

The standard story, of course, is that the nickname honors the history of Northampton, which was ground zero of the Valley cement industry as Bethlehem was the center of steel production.

The spelling — which may also have been a nod to a popular cartoon character of the time, Krazy Kat — accomplished two things. It caught the eye and reflected the area's German heritage.

Germans, as you know, spell even the most common words in a bizarre way, and often throw in Ks where Cs will do nicely. Even the German word for German is odd: it is "Deutsch," which has led to no end of confusion over the centuries as to whether a Pennsylvania Dutchman was an actual Dutchman or a regular German.

Jackson, however, believes the triple K is freighted with sinister meaning. I was astonished to learn he is not the first to believe so. Even the Wikipedia entry about Northampton Area High School makes reference to this suspicion.

On his petition at Change.org, Jackson explained his intentions:

"This is a time where many nationalities share in their learning experience and receive graduate honors," he wrote. "I think that it is terrible that the pride of the graduating students as well as students attending are disgraced with such a thing. The name should be changed to something that every student can be proud to claim as their school."





Look for this special section in your
Baltimore Sun newspaper on Dec. 29, 2013.
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