Princeton High School yearbook photo stirs controversy
Jamaica Ponder, the high school senior who has chronicled racist incidents in Princeton over the last year on her blog, submitted a controversial senior collage photo for the yearbook that included two pieces of artwork in the background.
One painting shows black men hanging from collages of trees with televisions around their heads. She said the piece is a commentary on famous black men who have been notoriously butchered by the media. A second painting features the words “NIGGER RICH,” in dark acrylic paint and chopped up dollar bills.
The yearbooks were distributed last week. Ponder was called into the principal’s office on Thursday because of the photo. In her blog post about the photo, she claimed that the inclusion of her dad’s art was an oversight and the photo was meant to be innocent and apolitical.
“I then think of the fact that nigger was in my senior collage and not someone else’s. I wonder what the repercussions would be for a white or hispanic or asian kid if they had made the same oversight as myself, if they would be treated differently for the same infractions due to their complexion. I wonder if that’s even legal,” she writes.
“The n-word is in our yearbook, but it’s coming from a black kid so that makes it okay, right? I’m well aware of the historical connotations of the word and why I’m in a position to throw it around freely if I so desire. Typically, I choose not to but only because I am equally as aware of the myriad of different, better words to use in place of it,” she writes.
“With that awareness comes a distinct disdain at the idea of a word reserved only for a select few, but to ignore the reasoning that only some people may use the n-word would be adhering to an ahistorical fallacy; it would be forgetting that before it was sung along to Kanye, it was hurled at humans working in fields, teenagers sitting at lunch counters and anyone who wandered too far towards the front of the bus. It was a weapon- one which black people are now granted use of so that it can no longer hurt them,” she writes. “So yes, the n-word may be in our yearbook, but it is also on the tongues of PHS students who’s only claim to it is the fact that it was once theirs and they can’t stand the idea of having something stolen from them. Even if it is a six-letter word.”
The blog post comes a day after the school district hosted a community forum on racism. Ponder has blogged about a few incidents involving high school and middle school students over the past year. She first posted about high school students playing Jew Nazi beer pong last spring. More recently she shared an Instagram post by a student who complained about having to ride the school bus with blacks. The Instagram post included the n-word. Ponder also wrote a post about middle school students who were caught consuming marijuana brownies at a private home. When asked who gave them the brownies, students falsely blamed a black student, saying everyone would believe them because the student was black.
An “oversight”? Given Ms. Ponder’s outspokenness on race? Please.
two 8 y/o talking: ‘How come you live in a nigger-neighborhood?’
I always appreciate Jamaica Ponder’s comments and willingness to speak out. Though it may seem unsettling, I personally think it is constructive to explore both the overt and underlying racism that we all have in varying degrees even as we continue moving to a better place with respect to our differences.
I’m with Doug on this. Plus I have high tolerance for public comment I disagree with, and an even higher bar of tolerance for the speech of people who have undeniably experienced oppressive treatment.
The thing I don’t get about J Green and Robert Dana’s comments is where the strong feeling comes from? What accounts for the strong grievance? (I have no idea what to make of cloudy2’s comment).
But beyond that, at what point does a public comment travel from the realm where we’re free to disagree, discuss, or ignore without emotion and into the realm where our very being seems under threat?
It just feels like in general there’s too much triggering and reaction.
I have no greivence whatsoever. I find Ms. Ponder to be an intelligent, articulate and careful spokesperson for the issues she cares about. Moreover, with some exceptions, I agree with much of what she has written over the past few years. Notwithstanding, I took issue with her “oversight” defense. I hope am allowed to do that without infringing on your safe space Nat. Lightin up.
No grievance. Ms Ponder posed a hypothetical, and I took it to its logical conclusion. If a white student had similar language in their yearbook page, the reaction would have been far far worse. Any sane person who lives outside of the liberal echo chamber knows this. Or you can choose to keep your head in the sand.
Ms. Ponder seems to really enjoy seeing her name in print. Imagine how empty her life would be if there was no racism.
The part I find most offensive about the photo is all the duck face.
What will JP do when she finds herself in a large university or maybe a diverse city filled with all kinds of bright black people, and she is suddenly a small fish in a big pond? Guess she’ll need to come up with a new schtick…
PS: It’s not 100% clear from her writing, but is she saying that a non-black student would have received less severe treatment for having the same word in his/her yearbook photo? I think, if anything, they would have gotten in worse trouble than she did.
What a great yearbook picture! It’s good to see our next generation thinking and writing thoughtfully about tricky issues, whatever they say.
The offending word is half obscured; I’d never have focused on it instead of on JP and her 16 happy friends. And you can’t tell what the other painting is without being told, especially when shrunk to normal yearbook size. Onward!
Good for you. I guess you don’t have a student who is graduating from PHS. Having purchased a Yearbook – not any book – to cherish forever. Reminded, repeatedly of this silly, selfish stunt. The Ponders should pay for a reprinting for those who want an edited version.
Any senior who is disturbed by JP’s photo can edit history themselves and slice it out, but eventually they’ll have to learn to thrive alongside the vast majority of people who think differently.
Not that I think JP was trying to be controversial with her collage. If she were, wouldn’t the substance of the photo have been actually controversial instead of obscured, out of focus, and overshadowed?
But the Yearbook is for all to enjoy and for no one to be reasonably offended. It’s not a vehicle for a snarky few. It’s not as if those children don’t have alternate means through which to express themselves; i.e., social media.
I’m of two minds about this. My knee-jerk reaction is to say… what is going on here? But thinking some more about it – especially in the age of a reality TV president – Jamaica Ponder just proved par excellence that she’s savvy enough to keep the issues close to her heart front and center to the community. That’s a skill the majority of adults don’t have.
Babies cry when they want attention. Your point?
I believe I made it, and without resorting to insults. I’ll also point out that it’s a rare, if not unprecedented, event for BlueBlazer and I to agree on something, so consider that a broad cross-section of folks might have concerns that don’t align with your views.
Would people who support Ms. Ponder’s photo also support a white student wearing a “build the wall” t-shirt? How about an Asian student with a painting in the background opposing the negative consequences on Asian applicants of affirmative action in college admissions? How about views in favor of LGBTQ people? How about views opposing LGBTQ people?
If students are going to be allowed to voice political and social views, then all views should be allowed, not just those PHS considers socially acceptable.
1) A white student wearing a “Build the Wall” t-shirt is the absolute opposite of what she did – that is calling for exclusion vs. raising awareness from an AA POV. 2) If the photo was sneaked in – or at least it was an oversight, and she was called in to the administration later – evidently PHS is not on board with it being socially acceptable. 3) It’s logically inconsistent to throw pro-LGBTQ and anti-LGBTQ views in the same light in this context. What JP did was to raise consciousness about problems a population has with human rights (albeit in a provocative way); pro-LGBTQ messaging, or awareness, would be the same type of message. Anti-LGBTQ would be exclusionary and demeaning. I hope we can all agree that the latter has no place in a school.
I appreciate your honesty. The courts have allowed public schools to restrict speech in a way that other public settings may not, but it must be content neutral. On the other hand, you appear to believe that students promoting views that you agree with should have a greater right to express them than students who have views that you oppose. Views you consider inclusive or that “raise consciousness” (in a way that you agree with) can be expressed in public school, but contrary views that you consider exclusionary and demeaning should not.
Excellent comment hereza1/4. At one time your position was unassailable. And when assailed, good people fought to insure it endured.
What exactly is the “excellent comment” hereazquater made? That hate speech targeting LGBTQ is a fine addtion to schools because “free speech?” Yes, at one point not long ago hate speech was accepted as nothing to get alarmed about. Jews were regularly parade and mocked in schools at Easter, black students were insulted and terrorized because they dared demand the same access to education as whites. I wish I could say many people stood and died standing against hate speech. The truth is is that many people STAND against and CONTINUE to die because of hate speech.
The constitutional right to free speech is designed to keep folks like you and Ms. Winslow and PHS from prohibiting views you find offensive from being expressed in the public arena. Again, public schools can limit speech in ways that other public authorities cannot, but it must be content neutral. Public schools can also prevent speech from being expressed in ways that disrupt the educational process. For example, schools can keep students from calling black students the N word, but they cannot prevent students in an appropriate setting from expressing views opposing affirmative action (just like they cannot prevent students in an appropriate setting from expressing views that support affirmative action).
Feel free to dispute views you find offensive, but what tremendous arrogance to believe that only your views have legitimacy.
Whoa. At no point did I call for rolling back 1A. I’m saying that a school should be a place of inclusion.
Who decides what speech is acceptable? You?
You and herezaquarter are, as usual, side stepping the issue of race and are instead clutching pearls and chest beating over free speech. Reframing the discussion with yourself as a champion of free speech against the Evil PC crowd is a such a lazy and tired way to upend a potentially worthwhile conversation.
I am certainly not sidestepping the issue of race. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I fully support discussion of sensitive issues like race, gender, abortion/right to life, etc. in the public schools and elsewhere. The more such open discussions the better in my view. You seem to believe that only your views merit being heard. That is where we part company. I believe that all views, even those that I consider offensive, are entitled to be heard, as long as they are presented in an appropriate manner. You say “champion of free speech” as though it is something distasteful, as opposed to one of the most fundamental and cherished rights we have in this country.
And yes, people who seek to prevent others from expressing their opinions, whether they are fascists on the right or the left, are a great threat to our freedoms and should be opposed.
I think we’ve raised a valid counter argument to yours. You just don’t like the response. Rather than respond to it, you cover your ears. The Supreme Court, including Justices from both sides of the political spectrum, have looked at these issues and in almost every instance have come down on the side of freedom of speech. I can count on one hand (with a few missing fingers) the number of times the Court has upheld a speech restriction. Take a look at this jurisprudence and then get back to us.
You missed the point entirely. Unsurprising.
I believe I fully understand your point. You believe that views that you disagree with should be prohibited from being expressed by others in public school. If a view in your opinion “raises consciousness,” it deserves free speech protection. If it does not match your views of what is an acceptable opinion, the opinion should be suppressed by an arm of the state (the public schools). That is a shockingly arrogant and uninformed opinion.The constitution was designed to protect all of us from folks like you who believe in a totalitarian approach to free speech. I, on the other hand, have no problem with Ms. Ponder’s yearbook picture. I also have no problem with a student posting anti-Trump messages in the yearbook. I also have no problem with students posting pro-Trump messages in the yearbook. I might not agree with all of the views expressed, but engaging in debate is how we change things, not by suppressing speech that we oppose.
No he didn’t, and your insulting reply diminishes yours.
And no, I don’t agree that anti-LGBTQ views have no place in school. I personally could care less to whom a particular person is attracted, or with whom a person has sex, marries, etc. The position, however, that people who have contrary views should not be allowed to articulate them in a public school or elsewhere is more consistent with fascism than democracy and freedom. Yes, people should be free to express views that you consider unacceptable. Yes, people should be free to express views that I consider unacceptable.
I respectfully disagree with ” What JP did was to raise consciousness about problems a population has with human rights”. What she did was want her cake an eat it to. Imagine if a non African American did what she did; JP would have blogged about that racist, and how wrong they were for doing that.
Did Ms. Ponder really use the “N” word in the YEARBOOK? The same Ms. Ponder who condemned the girl who used the “N” word in a Snapchat a few months ago? The same Ms. Ponder who is a hypocrite and clearly ignorant to the fact that you cant have it both ways?….
Timmy, not so clear she used the N-word. Look at the picture and decide for yourself. What is clear, is the anti-Semitic photo of a Nazi rally. Let’s see how PHS handles. Speaking of not having it both ways….
Several students were suspended for yearbook content, including the one you are referring to, not just Jamaica Ponder.
That was not an antisemitic photo. That was a political statement about PHS environment that fosters bigotry and superiority-complexes similar to the early Nazis of the Nuremburg march. People getting so offended by the photo by taking it literally and failing to consider its meaning are proving the student’s point.
I love that photo. Because, when I think of PHS, a Nuremberg rally comes to mind. Just as -when I think of the victimhood of poor Ms. Ponder, I immediately think of Emmit Till.
N-Word is pretty clear to me, and she even spelled it out in her blog, and I believe her parents confirmed.
Some questions for Ms. Winslow and BlueBlazer. A yearbook post advocates granting all illegal immigrants immediate citizenship, is that okay? A yearbook post advocates deporting all illegal immigrants, is that okay? A yearbook post opposes a border wall, while another post supports building a wall. A student posts in support of LGBTQ rights. Another student posts in opposition to such rights, perhaps citing sincerely held religious beliefs. A student posts in favor of a 2 state solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Another posts in favor of continuing to build settlements to take over Palestinian lands. Another posts in favor of driving all Zionists out of Palestine.
The most important question, of course, is why do you think you or PHS has the right to suppress views with which you disagree? Again, content neutral restrictions are okay as are rules that prevent views from being expressed in a manner that significantly disrupts the education experience, but people who want to suppress views with which they disagree reveal a shocking lack of knowledge of history and the constitution.
You’re sliding all over the place here. Cite to me where our public schools are hammering down on free speech as you and Mr. Dana so frequently claim.
A very recent one is Ms. Ponder’s recent suspension. That seems completely unjustified to me. Your previous comments equate those who do not support LGBTQ rights with hate speech. While I might not agree with all of those who oppose LGBTQ rights, to equate disagreement, even on important social issues, with hate speech as you did in a previous comment is absurd and uninformed.
“How about views opposing LGBTQ people.”
“No I don’t agree that anti-LGBTQ views have no place in school.”
“Opposing” LGBTQ people. “Anti-LGTBQ” views. Those stances are the stances of hate speech. Viewing any group as undeserving of the same rights, respect, and liberties you enjoy is the antithesis of what we claim to strive for in this country: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Note that I have not called for the repression of ANY speech, despite what you and Mr. Dana repeatedly and inaccurately claim. Please, take a moment and find where I have in my comments. And please spare the lecture, I am well aware that hate speech, as with any other speech, is protected from government limitations, in certain circumstances. However, just because something is *allowed* doesn’t mean it *should* have a home there. Hopefully you see that distinction.
Gosh. What will we do in the Fall when Ms. Ponder heads off to Northwestern? Back to stories about SAVE, the Fete and the Garden Club of Princeton, I suppose.
OK, folks. I’m a yearbook advisor. When I get this submission just what do I do? Tell the girl she can’t use it and be accused of censorship or start a controversy apparently because she used the word “nigger?” If I tell her she can’t use anything controversial, who decides what that is? Recently a yearbook advisor was put under investigation because “Trump” was photoshopped off their shirts. No one can say Trump isn’t controversial. There is no winning here.
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