Blackface shouldn’t be tolerated at WA

Seniors+adorning+black+and+silver+face+paint+at+the+2019+Spirit+Rally.+The+black+face+paint+has+come+under+question+in+our+community.

Keertana Gangireddy

Seniors adorning black and silver face paint at the 2019 Spirit Rally. The black face paint has come under question in our community.

Keertana Gangireddy, Co-Managing-Editor

Watching the oldest students of our school on the final day of spirit week, what I looked forward to the most in our town’s high school experience was being a part of the Spirit Rally as a senior. However, reflecting upon the rally now as an upperclassman, the event has come to greatly disappoint me. 

Racial justice and equality issues have recently come to light and become predominant issues in our country, as well as in our town. As members of the Westford community are seeking to rectify the racial actions and roots of our town, the black face paint adorned by the senior class at the rally has been deemed by many to be unintentional blackface.

There have been pushes from students and alumni to get rid of the tradition, the largest initiative being a petition started by the local Instagram platform Westford Coalition For Change. The petition has racked up 239 online signatures to date.

“Permitting blackface to exist is beyond unacceptable. […] Students continue to do blackface with no repercussions whatsoever. A permanent ban of this racist symbol is necessary,” the petition description reads. 

Frankly, I think that removing black face paint as a Westford tradition at the rally will be a step in the right direction for our town.

Blackface is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as: “dark makeup worn (as by a performer in a minstrel show) in a caricature of the appearance of a black person.”

Historically, blackface was prominent during the Antebellum Era, where white actors darkened their skin and made caricatures of African Americans. Exaggerated movements and clownish behavior perpetuated negative stereotypes and dehumanized black Americans.

One of the most prominent figures of the Minstrel Show Era, Jim Crow, represented the common social belief that white people were intellectually and culturally superior to those who were black. Jim Crow and the concepts juxtaposed with his character went on to become the basis of the Jim Crow laws, which institutionalized racial segregation and the notion that African Americans were second-class citizens in society. This notion remained pertinent until the Civil Rights Act in 1964 legally abolished racial segregation. However, people in the world and our town still clearly maintain some degree of racism, whether it be internal or blatant. 

Blackface is rooted in the racial hostility to African Americans. 

While considering the rally, the intent of the face paint has come into question. Blackface is done to portray someone who is black. This isn’t the case at our spirit rally, as face paint is used for the senior class to show their spirit. Additionally, most students don’t paint the entirety of their face black.

According to Westford’s Civil Rights Procedure, a complaint against someone making the school environment racially hostile will be investigated by the principal and a civil rights coordinator among others. If racist behavior is identified,  steps will be taken to prevent the “recurrence of any discriminatory behavior, including but not limited to harassment or retaliation”.

As per the WA Student Handbook, “harassment including but not limited to, race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sex, gender identity, creed, marital status, sexual orientation or disability will not be tolerated in the Westford Public Schools.”

Violations of the Harassment Policy may result in suspension, a referral to the Westford School Committee, or legal action for both students and adult personnel.

When done properly and respectfully, I don’t believe that our spirit rally paint is blackface of any form by definition. However, despite rules at WA disallowing students to paint their face solely black and perform discriminatory acts, I think allowing black face paint at rallies enables racist behavior from some students.

Regulations for blackface at our school for hundreds of seniors is difficult. There have been several citations of people doing blackface for the rally from WA alumni. These actions absolutely do not belong in our school environment, which is supposed to foster equality, acceptance, and inclusivity. Additionally, allowing intentional or unintentional blackface to go with no repercussions within our community may lead to other, possibly more severe acts of racism to go unnoticed at out school.

Although some may argue that senior colors and face paint are a part of a tradition at WA that shouldn’t be changed, I think we should prioritize the comfort and safety of all of our students; for this to happen, change is necessary. Colors like silver and grey can be alternatives to black, and still go along with senior shirts. 

Face paint ultimately doesn’t make or break the Spirit Rally. With or without (specifically) black face paint, our school can still celebrate seniors, and students can still express school spirit.

In the future, it would be beneficial for WA administrators and teachers to have more conversations with the entire student body regarding racial inequality in our town, in which our face paint can be discussed. Banning blackface in our school is one of many steps to promote egalitarianism and justice in our community.