A racially-charged quote disparaging white people surprisingly made it into print in the Revere High School (RHS) 2018 yearbook, and the student responsible said it wasn’t her quote originally, and she doesn’t agree with it either.
She told the Journal last week that she was shocked to find that the quote made it into the yearbook next to her picture, but indicated it was simply a senior prank that copycatted something that happened in New York City last year.
The quote in the RHS yearbook next to Betshina Bernier reads: “Anything is possible when you sound Caucasian on the phone.”
The backlash was almost immediate, especially after Bernier posted the matter on Twitter and iterated her shock that it had actually made it into the yearbook. Several City officials have questioned the matter, and Supt. Dianne Kelly has issued a statement.
A Boston Globe story late last week indicated that Bernier put the quote in to reflect on the racial climate she had experienced at RHS. However, when the Journal talked to her prior to the Globe, Bernier didn’t say that was the case at all. In fact, she said she has often been teased for sounding “too white” and never mentioned a negative racial climate at RHS.
Reached by phone on Thursday, she said the quote actually came from a stunt by a New York City student last year, who put the same quote in her yearbook to make a point. Bernier said she and her friends were trying to do a senior prank to make their teachers mad, and never considered their quotes would make it in the final version.
“Nobody understands that I did this quote as a joke,” she said Thursday evening. “My friends and I were thinking of inappropriate things to do to get a reaction from the teachers. We thought of putting senior quotes in to the teacher that were inappropriate to get that reaction. I thought that I would put in an inappropriate quote that had already made it in a yearbook. Mine was actually put through and the others weren’t. It was not expected. I didn’t think there was any way they would allow this in the yearbook. Someone had that same quote in a senior yearbook and I had read about it and thought I’d do that one as my inappropriate quote…The reactions I’ve gotten have been crazy. I didn’t expect it to go around that fast. I also never thought the Revere administration would actually allow it in the yearbook.”
As they say, what’s in print cannot be taken back.
And many have shown disgust for what Bernier did, with a lot of questions about the meaning behind it. Many also did not know that it had appeared in yearbooks before. Hundreds have posted about it online, and Councillor George Rotondo has asked for more information as to how the yearbook is edited, saying he heard about the situation from his children who attend the school.
For Bernier, the situation gets complex as she said she doesn’t even agree with the quote and said she has actually been made fun of during high school for sounding “too white.” That’s something that irritates the Haitian American senior, and something that makes the situation not one that fits neatly into the box many expected.
“There is a lot of controversial issues with the quote,” she said. “I actually don’t agree with that quote because I don’t really think there is a way for people to sound ‘white.’ Growing up, I was always told I talked white and sounded too white. I always said, ‘How is that?’ I speak with my words. When you speak properly in the black community, they see it as sounding white. If I choose to speak properly, then I’m sounding white…I think people speak how they speak in their environment. I think there is this unfair expectation that a black person is supposed to sound ghetto and act improper. That shouldn’t be.”
Supt. Kelly said these types of issues around racial speech at the high school have come up before. A few years ago, another major controversy erupted when a cheerleader made a comment online about voter turnout in relation to illegal immigration.
That controversy was followed up with a new unit on peaceful disagreements that all students have taken for the last two years. Kelly said despite what Bernier meant to do, her actions have shown a disregard for that teaching and how hurtful that quote could be to others.
“We continuously work toward creating spaces where students can engage in civil discourse about matters on which they disagree,” she said. “Our next steps as a school community will be to use this matter as an opportunity to address the undercurrent of racial discord at Revere High School…We have worked for the last two years on restorative justice and cultural competency at Revere High School, but it is clear that we have a lot more work to do in these areas. We want all members of the school community to treat each other with respect and dignity at all times.”
Kelly said the process for editing the yearbook is that students do an initial review of their peers’ submissions and anything they find questionable is passed on to the yearbook staff advisor. Additionally, that staff advisor looks at all senior quotes for questionable content. If they deem something inappropriate, they pass it on to the administration for further review and final determination. “It is always hard to balance the right to free speech – which is modified for schools – with the goal of creating and maintaining a safe, welcoming school environment where all kids feel included and valued,” Kelly said. “And whether people want to acknowledge it or not, this is even more difficult with the current national trends in this regard. The High School absolutely excludes quotes that contain hate speech, threats, profanity, or that reference illegal activities. It was determined that this quote did not fall into any of those categories.”
Bernier, for the most part, seems to be the typical Revere High student – and didn’t express any racial animosity or any disappointment with her time at RHS. She said she wants to be a cell and molecular biologist and plans to attend college. Her eventual goal is to become a doctor, so she can research cancer.
She did run track at RHS in year’s prior, but this year she said she got a job at Mass General Hospital as a patient escort – working mostly with children and others needing help before and after surgery. It’s a job she hopes eventually will help her get into her career.
That said, Bernier indicated that she didn’t regret the situation, though she did say she never intended it to actually be in the yearbook. She said it was a senior prank that kind of went awry.
“I don’t regret it because it was a joke and we all had a good laugh,” she said. “I’ve mostly been hearing positive reactions to it. A lot of authors have written me. A lot of white people reached out to me and said they felt it was the truth. I said to them that I didn’t think I told the truth because I don’t agree with the quote, but it was funny to hear all these things.”
The school administration didn’t indicate whether or not there would be any consequences to Bernier for the quote but indicated there is always the balance of free speech and censorship that the schools have to consider.