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Commentary: White girls’ shirts spell out Ni**er – Sur*ris*!, Sur*ris*!

Commentary: White girls’ shirts spell out Ni**er – Sur*ris*!, Sur*ris*!
January 28
00:00 2016
Photo by NBC

These are the students wearing the offensive T-shirts.

Six white high school seniors in suburban Phoenix posed – giggling and snickering, girly-like – for a photo that was posted on Snapchat with a not-too-subtle presentation of the racial slur traditionally applied to black people in America.  It mattered!

These students have left themselves quite a visual legacy, one that hounds the millennial generation: that awkward position whites (and others, many black) are in whenever Ni**er comes up in the lyrics of the music to which they listen to so attentively.  Some are enraged that the five-day suspension was levied in the first place, maintaining that the matter is much ado about nothing, that the girls had a Randy Marsh (from South Park) moment, no harm intended nor done.

Others, those calling for firing the principal who levied the punishment, opine that the suspension was insufficient for the offense.

We neither have to look too far back nor too far to the left or right, whether looking on the big or the small screen – as well as online and in print – to see a medley and montage of the extraordinary racist inheritance to which these girls fell heir.

Could the girls have been channeling the words of Gov. Paul LePage of Maine, who earlier this month warned his citizens of “guys by the name D-Money, Smoothie, and Shifty. The type of guys that come from Connecticut and New York. They come up here, they sell their heroin, then they go back home.”

Continuing, he said, “Incidentally, half the time they impregnate a young, white girl before they leave. Which is the real sad thing, because then we have another issue that we have to deal with down the road.” That would take a lot of T-shirts to spell out, one letter at a time.

Like the pulsating backbeat of a rapper’s delight, these kids are hearing and seeing, daily, politicians who trumpet cruel and racist immigration policies.

Racial tensions between minorities – whose numbers are rising exponentially – and the white population are at an all-time high.  Systematic racism and white privilege – where race matters in negative ways in the economy, in politics, education, health care, and incarceration rates – are unwelcomed explanations for behavior like that depicted in the schoolgirls’ ill-conceived photo that bombed.  And then there’s the all-white Academy Awards show bearing down on these adolescents.  They are what they see.  They become what they do!

These girls’ individual act of racism reflects nothing different than the assumptions and practices that have driven racialized politics in America since the 1600s.  Ni**er.  Sur*ris*!, Sur*ris*!  Whether subtle and less visible or the blatant displays of racism – both have negative impact on the targets of the belittling – and those who take aim at “The Other.”

At the turn of this century, James Allen published a book on white Americans, shown in the North and South, posing like the girls of Desert Vista High. In “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,” the photos depict whites giggling and grinning at black men being lynched and burned; portrayals of the well-known idiom, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”  I am not particularly surprised by the photos of white girls at Desert Vista High School depicting the N-word. It shows how far we’ve come, and yet how far we have to go.  Surprise. Surprise.

 

Dr. Bill Turner is a noted educator, writer and thinker who called Winston-Salem home for many years. Reach him at bill-turner@nullcomcast.net.

 

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