Minnesota High School Faces Lawsuit Over Racially Charged Homecoming Theme

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A Minnesota school district is getting sued for allowing its students to play off the pejorative “n-word” for a themed homecoming event.

The students of Red Wing High School, located 45 miles from St. Paul, allegedly celebrated “Wigger Day” by attending class dressed up in oversized sports jerseys, saggy pants, baseball caps cocked to the side, and doo rags. Some displayed gang signs.

The slang term “wigger” is used to describe a white person that co-opts and mimics the style, mannerisms, language and speech associated (to them) with African American culture. Quera Pruitt, a 19-year-old black student who graduated from Red Wing last year, is suing the school for turning a blind eye to the theme, one that many students, along with their parents, believe is racist and discriminatory.

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Homecoming typically involves a flurry of themed events that lead up to the big game. In 2009, the student body designated Sept. 30 as “Tropical Day,” but according to the federal class action suit (PDF), about 70 students declared it “Wednesday Wigger Day” instead. Pruitt says the high school, where 3% of the 900 students are black, celebrated “Wigger Day,” also known as “Wangsta Day,” between 2007 and 2009.

“This is blackface for the 21st century,” said Joshua Williams, Pruitt’s lawyer.

Pruitt filed the lawsuit last week and is seeking $75,000 in damages. She says the racially offensive tradition has resulted in “severe and extreme emotional distress including depression, loss of sleep, stress, crying, humiliation, anxiety, and shame.” She dropped out of cheerleading and the student council, and even considered dropping out of school altogether.

Though the school did not officially sanction the event, the complaint claims that officials, including Red Wing’s principal, were aware of the “racist nature” of the theme and didn’t stop the students.

“The district denies the allegations that it has created a racially hostile environment and looks forward to meeting these allegations in court,” district superintendent Karsten Anderson wrote in a statement.

Media reports linked to a “Wigger Wednesday” Facebook page (now mysteriously missing), started by students galvanized to keep the tradition alive. The tag line: “lets keep wigger wendesday goin til that [another offensive word describing Pruitt] quits.”

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Kai Ma is a TIME contributor. Find her on Twitter at @Kai_Ma or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.