Joel Mungo Black Virginia teacher at Menchville High School sues 10th grade white student for leaving banana in doorway, claiming the incident is a hate crime.
‘I’m just fed up!’ A Black Virginia high school history teacher is suing a white tenth-grade student after surveillance video implicated the pupil leaving a banana in the doorway of his classroom for months.
Joel Mungo, a history teacher at Menchville High School in Newport News, said starting in October 2021 he noticed a banana placed in his classroom doorway.
‘Someone left a banana at my door. The banana was perfectly placed in the doorway,’ the educator who has worked at the school for over 21 years told WAVY 10.
The incident which could have initially be deemed a coincidence soon became a reoccurring incident – with the banana placed in the same spot at least once a month.
After six instances the educator said he had enough.
Using fruit as a form of racial harassment
‘It was clearly a deliberate act,’ Mungo said.
Mungo is one of the few black teachers at the predominately white Virginia high school and has claimed the recurring gesture was an obvious act of harassment.
Bananas have been used as a form of debasement towards black people, meant to liken them to monkeys who are known to eat the fruit, the gesture overladen with racist overtones similar to the placement of watermelons — seen as a derogatory gesture towards the black community — first made popular in the South.
An ensuing investigation led to surveillance footage showing one of Mungo’s white 10th grade students walking down the hallway with the fruit in hand.
Mungo said he gave the student an opportunity to confess, only for the boy to deny any involvement.
‘I gave the student a chance to come clean. I asked him, ”Hey did you do this?” He said ”No,” he played dumb, “No idea what you’re talking about.” So I said “OK, go down to the assistant principal.” I’m the only Black teacher he has. He has six other teachers. No other teachers were involved,’ Mungo told WAVY 10.
Mungo said when he contacted the parents, the educator said they initially seemed ’embarrassed’ only to then become ‘irate,’ once the student was suspended for two days.
Mungo said he was so upset by the situation that he took a day off from work.
‘It’s 2022. Just to have some type of hate crime is absolutely ridiculous. I was sickened,’ he said.
The commonwealth’s Code of Virginia, § 52-8.5 “Reporting Hate Crimes,” identifies hate crimes as ‘incidents, as determined by law-enforcement authorities, intended to intimidate, or harass any individual or group because of race, religion, gender, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ethnic or national origin.’
The racist act has disturbed Mungo so much he is now pursuing legal action.
‘I’m just fed up with the racism around, especially at our academic institutions. Coming from the HBCUs and other colleges, the bomb threats, the nooses, the bananas and now it’s streaming into public education,’ he said.
‘It’s time to take a stand and just let people know it will not be tolerated. I know I’m not tolerating it. You have to speak up. You can’t allow it to go on because then it will just continue to go on,’ Mungo added.
Legal analyst advises suing school as opposed to student himself
As far as his impending lawsuit is concerned, attorney Ali Shahrestani, Esq. told Newsweek that Mungo would probably have a better case against the school as opposed to the student himself.
‘If I were counsel in the matter, I would advise the teacher to consider a lawsuit against the school for supporting a hostile work environment via its negligent failure to dole out a reasonable punishment. A two-day suspension is what a student should expect when he cheats on a test or gravely insults another student,’ Shahrestani said.
Shahrestani told Newsweek that the school’s lax punishment for the racist act sets a terrible precedent.
‘It sends a terrible message to other students, teachers, and the community when a student gets a slap on the wrist like this for such a disgusting series of alleged actions against a teacher. The fact that the student’s parents allegedly had the audacity to be upset by a two-day suspension might reflect the lack of sincerity of their initial alleged apology on his behalf,’ Shahrestani said.