Posted on May 21, 2020

Virginia Principal Apologizes for ‘Racist’ Graduation Banner That Used Black Students’ Faces as Shading

Snejana Farberov, Daily Mail, May 21, 2020

A high school in Virginia has come under fire after unveiling a graduation banner to celebrate the class of 2020 where the faces of black seniors were positioned in the dark outline of the school’s logo.

The banner featured a group photo of only some of Yorktown High School’s graduating seniors superimposed over a giant ‘Y’.

It was put on display at the Arlington high school earlier this week, but it has since been removed after being widely panned as racist by African-American students at the school.

‘I thoroughly don’t understand how Yorktown put forth such a racist banner,’ said one student in an online post. ‘I understand they were trying to do something nice for the seniors, but the execution was horrible. [People of color] shouldn’t be the outline and there are better ways to highlight the Y.’

Yoni Yohannes, an African-American senior at the majority white school, called the banner ‘shocking and disappointing’ on Instagram, as first reported.

Principal Kevin Clark issued an apology for the banner, insisting that it does not reflect the values of the school.

According to most recent demographic data, more than three quarters of Yorktown High School’s students are white.

An Arlington Public Schools spokesman explained in a statement that the banner was generated by computer software, which grouped hundreds of individual senior portraits to match the colors in the background, and then superimposed them over the school logo.

‘The printer sent a proof to the school by email, so it was difficult to see how the photos were placed to create image,’ spokesperson Frank Bellavia stated.

Joseph Ramos, outgoing editor-in-chief of the Yorktown Sentry student newspaper reported on the controversy on Twitter on Wednesday, showing photos of the controversial banner hanging near Arlington’s Greenbrier Park.

Ramos also shared an email that senior Natavan Karsh sent to the assistant principal, drawing attention to the fact that not all the graduates are featured in the banner, and that African-American and Hispanic students appear to be grouped together to create the outline of the logo.

‘I do not know if this was intended, but if the pictures were at all organized by skin color that is absolutely disgusting,’ the senior wrote.

Assistant Principal Suzanne Evans replied by saying that the way the banner was printed ‘was definitely not planned to have the students grouped as they appear and we had been told that all seniors would be on it.’

Evans reassured the senior that the banner will be taken down and reprinted ‘in a way that will show all our seniors and not have concerns with where students are on the banner in terms of the design.’

In his letter to students and parents addressing the scandal, the principal said that while it was an outside printing company that created the banner, school officials reviewed the finished product and failed to recognize the problem.

‘Therefore, it appears that our students of color seem to make up the darker areas of the photo,’ he wrote. ‘Upon realizing our oversight, we immediately removed the banner and notified the printing company of this issue.

‘This banner does not appropriately reflect our graduating class or our values, and we sincerely apologize to any student who felt offended or marginalized. We do not condone any activity or imagery that offends our students.’