HIGH SCHOOL ‘WIGGA’ PARTIES + SENIOR CLASS ‘NI**ER’ T-SHIRTS: THIS IS AMERICA 2016
I had difficulty determining a starting point for this piece. Which wrong do I attempt to right? How to educate without judgement? As I explore two examples of racism in American high schools, I implore you, the reader, to pause and think from another point of view. Think about this piece from my angle. Then think about it from the high schoolers mentioned below. And then from the parents of each of the kid. And then…
The picture below is from senior picture day at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix, Arizona. The senior class spelled out “BEST *YOU’VE* EVER *SEEN* CLASS *OF* 2016”. Then, these girls six girls took their own picture. To read about the incident, please check out ABC 15, NewsOne, and ATTN. Each of the girls photographed here received a five-day suspension.
The pictures below are from a January 2016 ‘wigga’ party in San Francisco which led to the suspension of 14 students from St. Ignatius College Preparatory High School. To read articles on the party, please check out San Francisco Chronicle , ABC 7 News, and The Guardian.
As you can see: to imitate black culture and black people, white people will configure their hands to emulate “gang signs” and wear oversize clothing.
Do not ever forget that the 44th President of The United States of America is named Barack Obama and he is Black and does not dress like that.
In this example of two high school events gone very wrong, there is a clear disconnect. It’s possible that the individuals in these photos, and who partook in these events, are not racist. They were just going to a themed party and taking pictures. That doesn’t make them racist, right? However, it’s the insensitivity and the lack of thinking of the situation from another point of view that lends itself to accusations of racism. What will help us going forward is to not just heed your parents advice to “think before you act” but to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes before you act.” It might save you from getting suspended, being labeled a racist, or getting your face broken.
The point of this is to be more inclusive. You remember that word from high school, right? It’s so easy to break up into groups and judge, belittle, and disregard others for not being in YOUR group or YOUR type. This is true of age groups (think freshmen vs. seniors on campus), sports teams, ethnicities, and so on and so forth.
This all matters because black lives matter. Because this is about making black lives matter and, to these kids, black lives did not matter to them prior to taking these pictures. Because we are in the year of 2016 and today’s youth are thought to be very socially progressive and liberal(at least compared to their parents), they cannot be considered racist. The word “racist” usually is tossed around with older folks who’s values and opinions on race relations were cemented in decades past. But we can see that racism is alive and exists in other forms. It doesn’t have to be in the form of lynchings, voter restrictions, and civil liberties but on a t-shirt or at a themed party.
By spelling out a derogatory word or attending a themed party, these kids weren’t, in their mind, doing anything actively harmful to black people. If someone were to say “go up to that black person and call them a ‘NI**ER’”, they would never (hopefully!) do it. But, as we all know, they will happily spell out that word on a t-shirt and take a (seemingly) harmful picture. But, it’s the same thing. It’s hurtful and insensitive and just another form of racism that needs to end and can be eradicated. If we PUT OURSELVES IN SOMEONE ELSE’S SHOES BEFORE WE ACT, TWEET, POST, THINK, PIN, PROCLAIM, GENERALIZE, AND JUDGE we will be able to do that thing our parents have always told us: treat others the way you would like to be treated.