Last night, around 11:30 p.m., the event page for the upcoming Pirate Party was updated with an interesting cover photo. The photo depicts a plantation scene, with whom I presume to be George Washington standing in the foreground and two black slaves standing in the background. Superimposed over the image are the words, “and I want the bouncy castle over there.” This is the supposed connection between the image and the event that will be held at CMC in one week, as there will indeed be a bouncy house on the premises during the party.
While the photo itself accurately represents history—George Washington did own slaves, and they did serve his every whim and request as entities used for free and often cruel labor—I was simply confused as to why this particular photo was used to promote one of my favorite 5C events of the year.
I wanted to pinpoint why, instinctively, I found the photo to be so inflammatory and inappropriate. I have written in the past about political correctness and how a fear of offending sometimes silences important questions and conversations. However, this incident does not fall under the debate of political correctness. It falls under the debate of what it means to acknowledge the sense of basic respect for all that I also discussed in my PC piece.
The picture trivializes one of the darkest times in our country’s history. The 400 years of violence and slavery, the compounded effects of the institution on our collective domestic consciousness, the escalating deaths within the black community, and mass incarceration within the framework of the prison-industrial complex are not things that we can afford to trivialize.
Furthermore, the presence of the photo in relation to the Pirate Party event ran the risk of alienating students of color or any other students with a historical consciousness from attending the event, whether consciously or unconsciously.
was quickly taken down within thirty minutes, and although the situation was
addressed and apologized for, it left a lasting impression on me. I understand
that the poor choice of the event photo was a mistake. I never believe that one
sets out to intentionally harm or offend another. However, when things like
this happen—the vandalization of the Black Lives Matter mural on Walker Wall,
cultural appropriation in the ASCMC student government speeches, me being
referred to as “ethnic
pussy”—inadvertent or not, they enter into the consciousness of our community.
Within the context of the joke and the photo, George Washington directing the slaves to place a “bouncy castle” on his property, devalues the lives of anyone who is connected directly or indirectly with the institution of slavery in the United States. This would be the same if the photo trivialized a scene from the Holocaust or the Armenian Genocide, if not worse.
Freedom of speech within the context of comedy and satire is often coupled with controversy. The matter at hand in these cases is not a misunderstanding of the joke, but rather a hope for those making the joke to understand that there are wider implications to trivializing the serious.
Trivializing the serious can be attributed to a level of ignorance—not knowing what you do not know—but as students at some of the top liberal arts colleges in the United States, ignorance at this point can be considered willful ignorance. There is a wealth of classes, faculty and peers that can serve as sounding boards for conversations that elevate consciousness.
If one is unable to understand why a joke or a photo trivializing the experience of a marginalized community could be considered offensive, just ask. I am not calling for censorship here, just an open dialogue and a basic sense of respect. On a wider scale, understand that there are things you may not know, may not understand, may not identify with, but being open to educating yourself and not ever allowing for misunderstanding to lead to hurt or pain.
I can’t wait for Pirate Party. I can’t wait to jump in the bouncy castle and enjoy all of the revelry that comes with celebrating the end of the semester with friends. But I also can’t wait until the day where, as a community, we can reach an understanding that when the voice or experience of even one individual in our community is devalued, then all of our voices and experiences are devalued.
Taylor Lemmons CM ’17 is an international relations and economics dual major from Denver, Colo.