A black New Jersey high school student is upset that she was suspended after submitting a yearbook photo that featured artwork that had a racial slur and images of lynchings on it in the background.
Jamaica Ponder, who attends Princeton High School, found herself sitting at home Monday after school administrators took issue with the artwork in the background of a photo of her with some of her friends. According to NewsWorks, when the yearbooks were distributed to students last week, Ponder was called Friday to Principal Gary Snyder’s office, where she was informed that she would be suspended.
Ponder explained in a blog post via her online Multi Magazine that the artwork in the background of the photo collage that caused administrators so much distress was of two of her father’s paintings that have been on the wall of her home for what seems like forever, to the point that she barely notices them anymore.
In one painting, the slur isn’t fully visible, with part of the “n” “i,” “g” and “e” obscured by other students’ bodies. The painting depicts celebrities like Michael Jackson hanging from trees and is so small in the background of the photo that it’s really hard to determine what is going on.
Yet somehow Ponder wound up in trouble, even though she said the artwork’s inclusion was an oversight.
“Art is trouble, if you’re doing it right,” Ponder wrote on her blog. “And Ponder art has a tendency to incite and provoke; to make people think. Right now, it serves its purpose from all the way in my basement, from behind the heads of my scooter-and balloon-wielding friends, from the purposefully innocent and apolitical photo that is my senior collage. My father’s art served its purpose without me even noticing and that’s how I ended up in the principal’s office this morning when I should’ve been doing my math homework.”
“It’s frustrating to me to watch the school deliberately refuse to be more transparent and address its multitude of issues. The problem isn’t that they aren’t perfect; the problem is that they aren’t doing anything to make themselves better,” she told NewsWorks. “Rather, they quite literally hide behind me and litter the airways with irrelevant and frequently flawed accusations and reasonings for why things happen.”
She expressed her feelings that the administrators’ reactions were retaliatory, meant to silence her as a student who has been outspoken about racism at her school.
The site notes that the principal declined to comment on the issue, but noted in a letter sent home to parents that several students were disciplined for sneaking in offensive imagery that included “racial bias, bigotry and anti-Semitism.”
“Both faculty and students on the yearbook staff have acknowledged shortcomings in their editorial review process that enabled the inappropriate content to slip through and have apologized for unknowingly publishing such content,” Snyder wrote. “While we encourage our students to have thoughtful dialogues and challenging academic discussions within safe spaces and with established ground rules, the use of historically offensive words and symbols in a yearbook crosses the boundaries of productive dialogue and into the realm of offensive speech that is not permissible within the domains of our school community.”
Some students weren’t happy about Ponder’s suspension, with about 15 of them protesting Monday afternoon and walking to Snyder’s office with signs reading, “Suspend me!” and a petition for Snyder to remove the suspension from Ponder’s permanent record. The petition also asked school administrators and faculty to “contextualize incidents and carefully consider the racial context of their actions in the broader scheme of things.”
Read more at NewsWorks.