Current Events

THE NIGGER IN THE YEARBOOK

If you look closely enough, you’ll find Nazis in your yearbook. Look even harder, and you’ll see men being lynched alongside bits and pieces of the N-word. I take no responsibility for the Nazis, but the black history photo-tour is definitely my fault.

I love my house because it is warm, always a bit messy, drowning in books and coated in art. My father paints, my mother quilts, my brother draws on the walls. It’s nearly impossible to walk through the Ponder household without noticing their art in one way or another and that is, undoubtedly, the charm of my red home on top of the hill.

Art is trouble, if you’re doing it right. 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.

15873598_620588664799355_279041423088398792_n.jpg

I’ve grown desensitized to the big, black canvas in my basement, screaming “NIGGER RICH,” in dark acrylic paint and chopped up dollar bills. It’s there, hanging as art does and it fails to touch me: I’m familiar with the word nigger. Beside it, there’s another piece of art depicting (in)famous black men who have been notoriously butchered by mass media. OJ Simpson and Michael Jackson hang from collages of trees with TV’s around their heads; stagnant and silent and in my senior collage.

Lynchings and niggers and happy teenage faces all blur together until its impossible to differentiate and that’s my life. I think the unintentional presence of the art to be perfectly reflective of my existence and it intrigues me that it is so scary to people. My history, which is portrayed here with artistic intent, consistently intermingles with the vibrancy of my day-to-day life. I do not pick and choose when it matters to me. Nigger doesn’t just go away.

I think we like to pretend that these things aren’t relevant, that because no one’s seen anyone hanging from a tree for a few decades that it isn’t impactful of the lives black  children lead today; that we’re too far removed. Which is almost laughable; how can one remove something that’s intrinsic? How can we remove something our peers don’t understand but refuse to allow us to forget? There are no days when I’m not black anymore; there are no days when I forget what happened- what’s happening.

With this I’m reminded of the fallacies Dr. Ruha Benjamin shared with us just the other day when addressing the senior class of Princeton High School. The first, and potentially most toxic being the Ahistorical fallacy, in which “one assumes historical acts of yesteryear have no affect on today.”

It’s a fallacy because history is always relevant and it will consistently play a hand in everything that happens. To fear it is to place oneself at an extreme intellectual and interpersonal disadvantage because it robs one of the capacity to fully understand circumstances, actions and repercussions. To fear is to fall into the mold which Princeton High School has created for itself- one which we should be desperately trying to climb out of.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

 

8 thoughts on “THE NIGGER IN THE YEARBOOK”

  1. “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.”

    That’s an oppressive, and frankly misguided, claim to make about individuals that are still children – who’s personal history reaches back only to the 2000’s.

    From what artist to another, you may want to reflect on what art seeks to accomplish, and what separates it from illustration.

    Like

    1. I believe slavery was “abolished” in 1865, The Civil Rights Act 1964 made segregation unlawful, so it’s safe to say most of us have a “personal” history that doesn’t reach back to cotton fields, lynchings and water hoses. However, it does not alleviate the vibrancy of the slave narrative that continues to play out over centuries and decades. The mere fact that the one who has penned these experiences also “personal history” only reaches back to the 2000’s. Yet, why is this her story? Perhaps because “personal history” is indubitably intertwined with who we were yesterday, today and tomorrow. What is misguiding is to believe that the past does not play a significant role in the present. The “personal history” exist between one’s own lifespan. That the past is foundational to how we experience the world today; good, bad or indifferent. That high school and college students are at the core of every major evolution in our history. That youth do not live in silos without grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts and many other influencers who help to shape their thoughts and ideas. What’s oppressive is that a young black girl in America is having this experience. Just a thought!

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s