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Racially charged video roils elite private school in Los Angeles

An elite Westside private school said Tuesday that it is investigating a video showing students singing the lyrics of a rap song containing profanity and offensive language about women and African Americans.

The video emerged on YouTube this week as part of a campaign on change.org demanding that the Brentwood School deal with the video and what organizers said are other racial issues on campus. It’s unclear when the video was recorded.

In a statement, the school described the lyrics as “offensive and inconsistent with our core values. We are investigating this insensitive behavior, will address the situation directly, and will respond seriously.”

The change.org petition criticized the school for not doing more.

“Brentwood has done nothing other than offer to ‘talk to them.’ If these kids weren’t in their socioeconomic position, of their racial heritage, or considered “assets” to the community (based on social status and/or their parents’ wealth), consequences would be different,” the petition states. “Brentwood claims to value diversity and acceptance, but their lack of action demonstrates otherwise. This is just another example of their white favoritism.”

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Danmei Lee, whose son is in 12th grade at the school, heard about the video for the first time Monday night, when she got an email from the school administration. She hadn’t yet talked to her son about it but planned to do so.

“I don’t know why the kids got this idea,” Lee said. “This kind of situation should never happen ... especially in Southern California, [where] there are so many different populations.”

Brentwood is considered one of Los Angeles’ most prestigious schools. This year, base tuition for grades 7-12 was $37,725. According to the school’s website, 15% of families benefit from financial aid. At the East Campus, where Brentwood teaches grades 7-12, the website states, 34% of students are of color. At the West Campus, where kindergarten through sixth grade is taught, 26% of students are of color.

In its statement, the school said it hoped to learn from the incident.

“This situation underscores the fact that nurturing a climate of mutual respect and inclusion at Brentwood is an ongoing process,” the school said. “We will use this as an opportunity to further authentic dialogue about diversity and what it means to each individual member of our school.”

But the authors of the petition said more needed to be done to make non-white students at the school feel more welcomed.

“Unless they begin implementing the values that they parade, it will be difficult for more students that identify as minority members to feel embraced as a part of the community,” they said.

sonali.kohli@latimes.com

Twitter: @Sonali_Kohli

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