An ignorant moment among six high school seniors — who spelled out a racial slur with lettered T-shirts they were wearing for a school photo and posted it to social media on Friday — has ignited national outrage that shows no sign of stopping.
Civil rights activists are even planning to hold a protest on Monday at the school, Desert Vista High School in Phoenix. That’s where the six white girls, part of a larger group of students who wore lettered T-shirts and stood together to spell out “Best You’ve Ever Seen Class of 2016” for a yearbook photo, rearranged themselves for a private photo. For that one, they stood together spelling out the word “NI**ER,” laughing and smiling at their spelling trick.
A Change.org petition with more than 37,000 signatures is calling for the girls to be expelled and for the principal, Christine Barela, to be fired. “Arizona has been stricken with another blatant expression of racism and ignorance,” the petition says, seemingly referring to another recent social media controversy in which an Arizona State University student tweeted the N-word along with a photo of herself and a friend holding freshly picked cotton.
While several outlets have reported that the high school girls have been punished with a five-day suspension, a letter posted on the Tempe Union High School District’s website by superintendent Kenneth R. Baca says that is not the case. “There have been numerous reports about punishment; and while we cannot give specifics about the discipline, we can assure you those reports are inaccurate. Tempe Union has a discipline process, and it is ongoing,” the letter says. “We are appalled and disappointed, and behavior such as this will not be tolerated. Words matter, and the word that was used in the photograph is vulgar and vicious. It has no place in our schools or our society — regardless of the intent.”
The original “Best You’ve Ever Seen, Class of 2016” class photo. (Photo: Twitter/Tyler Baldwin)
Principal Christine Barela had also written in a letter to parents that the district wanted to make it “crystal clear that those actions are unacceptable.”
On Friday, police were stationed at the high school to keep peace, and Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio posted a response to the situation on Facebook, noting that he’d learned the six seniors had received threats. “The threats against these young girls is unacceptable,” he wrote. “They made a bad mistake as many teenagers do in life. But, any threats against these young women is going to be taken very seriously.”
Dejah Brightly, a student at the school, told AZ Central in a video that when she saw the photo, she was “really shocked, because they thought it was really funny to spell out that word, which is, like, very offensive to a lot of people who are African-American who go to Desert Vista. So I didn’t think it was funny at all. I thought it was very, very offensive.” Brightly added, “To be honest, I think that they should’ve gotten expelled for what they did.”
Another student, Ke’ale Nicholson, said, “I do feel anger because I am black myself, and it’s like, why talk about a culture like that?”
And Tadj Jefferson, a student and yearbook photographer, added, “It’s offensive, especially to me because I am African-American. … And a lot of other people find it offensive, no matter what their race, because it’s just not an OK thing to do.”
Social media was still all over the #DesertVista situation as of Monday afternoon, with a fair share of commenters brushing it off with tweets such as, “It’s just a word, but it’s easier to get apoplectic over a word than over real issues…Requires less effort and gets more attention,” and “Black delinquents terrorize school districts across the country. But leftists are up in arms over a word.” Others, though, expressed outrage. “Witness the pure joy that hate brings,” noted one tweet, along with the photo of the smiling girls. And, tweeted Arizona sport anchor Tyler Baldwin, along with the full senior photo, “Yes! This is the ‘best you’ve ever been class of 2016’ because it’s about to go downhill quickly.”
Top photo: Change.org