Video clips of a group of white Princeton High School students and recent graduates dancing to Pop Smoke’s “Dior” at a party have stirred controversy among students and parents in the community because of the use of the n-word in the song, as well as the lack of social distancing at the party.
A recent graduate who attended the party recorded friends singing and dancing to Dior and then turned the camera on herself and a friend as they laughed. She put the video clip on Snapchat. The video was seen and shared by students at the high school who found it offensive. In one version of the video, a student added the text of the lyrics being sung to an abridged video clip so people would know what was being sung. One of the most offensive lines of the song that is in the video is “Bit_ _ …, get me lit. I can’t f_ _k with these Ni_ _as ’cause N_ _ _ _ s is gay.”
Black students and recent graduates who reached out to Planet Princeton about the video said it is one more example of racist incidents that have taken place at the school in recent years. This spring, a sophomore post a video on social media mocking Africans. In 2017, a student complained on Instagram that he was “on the bus with a bunch of n_ _ _ _ _ _.” In 2016, students at the high school were captured in photos playing a drinking game called Jews vs. Nazis beer pong.
The video raises issues that have come up in some of the other incidents about what constitutes racism, acceptable teen social behavior, teens and social media, and the question of what a public school district’s role is regarding the behavior of students outside of school.
Over the weekend, the video was shared on the public Instagram page @dearwhitepeoplenj, a page used to expose racism in New Jersey. Students said the video was deleted multiple times after Princeton High School students reported it as hate speech.
“This video stands as another example of the racism that not only plagues Princeton High School but Princeton, New Jersey itself,” one Black Princeton High School student told Planet Princeton. “Princeton High School’s refusal to discipline these students and put forth a required racial literacy course allows for this racist behavior to continue within its walls.”
In a social media post in the Princeton High School Class of 2020 Facebook group, a student who was at the party countered that the video clip with the text imposed on it removes the context of the singing and dancing. The student and a lawyer representing his family have blamed the Black student for sharing the edited post. The lawyer sent letters Tuesday to people who have shared the video, threatening legal action if they don’t remove the video and any screenshots. The lawyer contends that the videos were ‘maliciously” edited to give a false impression that the teens dancing were promoting racist and anti-LGTBQ sentiments. “This was not the case at all,” wrote the lawyer in a letter obtained by Planet Princeton. “The teenagers in the video gathered for a final gathering to celebrate their high school graduations before they begin their college careers.”
According to the lawyer, the teens did not plan to engage in bigoted conduct or harm others. The lawyer said the teens “engage in activities to promote equality in our society among all races, persons, sexual orientations, and gender identities.”
Distress from Black students who saw the video and were offended by the lyrics prompted Princeton High School Principal Jessica Baxter to write a note to parents on Sunday. Baxter wrote that she had been in touch with families and students to discuss the video and hoped there would be a continued dialogue about the issues after summer break is over.
“In talking to other students not involved in the video I hear their hurt and disappointment in their classmates, both with their actions when the video was posted as well as their silence that followed,” she wrote. “These are teenagers and they are trying to make sense of why, in 2020 and with everything going on in our world right now, their peers/friends/classmates thought that singing along to offensive lyrics would be okay.”
Baxter said if school were in session or there was not a global pandemic, she would bring all of these students together to talk and learn from each other.
“The options right now are zoom calls and social media conversations. Unfortunately, social media conversations are not very productive and there is a lot of name calling, blaming, and defensive arguments,” Baxter wrote. “Not a lot of learning is coming out of these conversations. We need face-to-face interaction most right now, and we can’t have it.”
Baxter encouraged parents to discuss the consequences of social media posts with children. “Please talk with them proactively about being reflective on their actions and practices in the current context of the world so they can better identify ways to recognize what may be hurtful to others,” Baxter wrote.
“Our children are not perfect. They make mistakes, and that is why we are here, to teach them to be accountable and learn from them. One of the saddest things I heard from a student this weekend was that she was ‘okay’ and ‘expected it’,” Baxter wrote. “Our children should not expect to be hurt by their friends. While it may be summer, and I do not have jurisdiction and cannot control what happens outside of school, I still have an obligation to be there for my students and to do more.”
Baxter wrote that seven staff members at Princeton High School and John Witherspoon Middle School are working on an online racial literacy course to be offered in the coming school year.
More than 150 people attended the online school board meeting on Tuesday night. The zoom room was full and some people could not attend. Others joined the meeting late. Some parents wanted to comment about the video incident. Others listening in on the zoom call were parents of some of the students in the video.
Resident Ashante Thompson asked whether the board had discussed the video and said she had trouble joining the meeting earlier.
“This is something that needs to be addressed,” she said of the video. “The response and letter to families was not okay. We keep having all these conversations about restorative justice and equity meetings. But we need to move forward as a district and make people be accountable and responsible. There is a discussion going on in the town that is not a good discussion about Princeton High School.
The interim superintendent for the school district said according to the school board’s lawyer, under New Jersey law, in order for a district to discipline a student for off-campus conduct must have a nexus into the school. “This is a parental matter,” Interim Superintendent Barry Galasso said.
Thompson said she wasn’t looking for discipline. “I’m looking for honest conversations,” she said. “These are still our children and they represent Princeton High School.”