Notes from the Field
The juxtaposition between Amanda Ripley, a white journalist, and Niya Kenny, the 18-year-old black girl and subject of the story that Smith acts out, reveals an obvious difference in attitudes to the classroom scene where the police targeted black teenagers in a classroom. Both Ripley and Kenny are saddened and outraged by the event. However, Ripley carefully chooses her words and takes a very objective, almost calm stance while Kenny is personally outraged but also has a familiar attitude towards the event, sometimes talking like it’s just another day. The way Smith flips back and forth between the two perspectives several times to tell the story emphasizes this juxtaposition.
The difference in how their words represent their bodies here is crucial to the story: the backgrounds and even potential futures for the characters come to light through their attitudes and diction. Ripley understands the facts of the situation, understands its wrongness, but Kenny has a more personal understanding of it all even though she is much younger. Youth is often associated with being less experienced, but Kenny is clearly well-versed in racism and its effects because it’s part of her life—it’s systemic—and she talks about being mad about it her entire life. Her words are fiery, not objective, and to me it really spoke about how black children grow up already under the weight of racism, this terrible part of the world, while some people (usually white people) have and choose to take the luxury of being able to choose not to care about racism. It was a choice for both Ripley and Kenny to talk about this story, but not in the same way. Kenny lives it, lived that story, in the same way so many black youth live the same stories that are sometimes never told.