What’s in a yearbook photo? More and more often, it seems some controversy based on perceived intent about the photo’s ‘statement.’
The most recent yearbook photo controversy has me wondering whether it’s time yearbooks were a thing of the past.
A group of foreign language teachers caught flak about their costumes in yearbook photos. The idea behind the photos, apparently, was to allow foreign language teachers to dress in costumes associated with the countries whose language they teach.
Spanish teachers, for example, wore sombreros and fake mustaches while a French teacher wore a black beret and sunglasses. (Are sunglasses a French thing?)
In the past, there have been several instances in which a yearbook photo depicting a white person in blackface has caused huge uproars. Not that such actions ever should have been “appropriate,” but they were obviously much closer to appropriate decades ago than they are today.
In the blackface examples, some of the yearbooks were decades old and only came to light because someone flipped through the pages and made something out of it decades later.
In the case of the teachers, the controversy came to light as soon as this year’s yearbooks were released at a California school. But here’s the kicker: the photos were taken for the teachers’ ID photos.
So apparently, these photos, which even the school district called “insensitive,” have been hiding in plain sight on faculty IDs.
It was the yearbook, of course, that made the photos get noticed.
In some ways, it’s a good thing people are reacting to photos that depict potentially insensitive actions in a manner that illustrates that now, in 2019, we as a society understand the insensitivity.
But some aren’t looking to compare today’s societal norms with those of yesteryear. They’re looking for controversy, often for political motives.
And too often, that kind of controversy causes the important part of the conversation — about what’s right and wrong — to be lost in the needless drama.
In some cases — though I wouldn’t automatically argue it’s in all cases — there was no genuine intent to offend anyone. I see the teacher yearbook photos falling into this category.
But when you have a society in which far too many people seem to be looking for something to be offended by, intent doesn’t matter.
Doing away with yearbooks, I realize, won’t change this.
That’s even sadder.