Fredericton High School (FHS) recently allowed their grade 12 students to dress up as stereotypical “Black Gangstas” for graduation photos. Complete with big gold chains and twisted hair. This is a problem. But it didn’t seem to be one for the administration of FHS until people spoke out.
Now they have released an official statement saying they didn’t know anything about this. Begging students to delete photos and demanding the photography company (they hired) to retake more sensible ones. Erasing their actions instead of standing beside and admitting what they have a history of doing.
Fredericton high school is a racist institution. This latest event and their haste to erase all evidence of it only proves this. They have a graduating class of 500 students and they’re saying the teaching staff at FHS didn’t know? Well, who organized it? Who paid for the photographer? Who watched and did nothing as hundreds of white students paraded around the school all day in gold chains.
Dressing up to play poverty and making the struggles of those less fortunate seem silly. No one did anything to prevent this heavily organized event until after the photos were edited and emailed? Yeah, sure they didn’t know about it.
The “Black Gangsta” culture they are making light of comes from an environment of deep racism and poverty. A history of white governments refusing Black communities resources to survive. White privileged families isolated and ignored Black families to the point of desperation.
The real gangsters live in an environment of violence, starvation and poverty created by racism. Their fashion choices are not choices. The cycle they are faced with is neither healthy nor humorous.
How crazy is it that mimicking this demographic of Black culture is now a badge of honour? That white culture wears our poverty as a fashion statement. A hashtag. White teenagers are wearing gold chains and deadlocks for a day pretending to look Black and angry.
This makes them feel popular and important? How does this not scream white power? A local business, Harvey Studios, was paid to professionally capture these moments. This was for their graduation photos!
The school has done nothing to defend or even consider what an event like this would have on the mental health of its black students. Some of them are terrified and in tears because the school and some of their friends thought that this was okay to do.
I know I personally would be worried about what it will be like to graduate into a job market where the employers went through the same cultural diversity education. Of bullying other cultures into stereotypes then wearing them around school as a joke.
Would they have a homeless celebration day? Would they have a victim of domestic abuse gala? How about a mentally ill dance competition? If these thoughts cause you to recoil in disgust then how are white people making fun of Black gangsters any different. Can we please teach these kids cultural awareness instead of reinforcing ignorance?
People talk about systemic racism, about where the biases and intolerance starts, where a sense of superiority grows into a hate that rejects merit based on culture. You’re looking at it. Organized and paid for by the school. Gardening the most toxic mindsets with smiles on everyone’s faces. Now they have erased all evidence of this event.
But if you know anyone with these photos send them to me. I want every single one, I want the name of the photographer. The person who organized this event. All of it. No organization should be allowed to sweep this under the rug.
This is what Fredericton High School is teaching behind its walls. White power is so strong at FHS that they can dress up their entire graduating class as cultural stereotypes and get away with it (in 2021!).
No one is held responsible, the parents don’t care, the teachers don’t speak out, it doesn’t get any news coverage. Because this is normal. It’s cultural ignorance so normalized that it mine as well be called amnesia.
Now, with all the evidence destroyed, they get to pretend this was a harmless mistake. But this is racism. And Fredericton High School is clearly an ignorance factory. Where our children go to graduate with corrupt values that dehumanize other cultures. Proudly.
Love and Respect
Poet and commentator Thandiwe McCarthy is a seventh generation New Brunswicker who grew up in Woodstock and now lives in Fredericton.
This commentary was first published by Medium on September 22, 2021.