WA bans black face paint at spirit rally


Melanie Duronio

Seniors at the 2019 spirit rally.

Keertana Gangireddy, Co-Editor-in-Chief

WA Principal James Antonelli and Westford Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator Adam Ingano mandated that seniors should not wear black face paint via morning announcement on Monday, Oct. 18 at the Spirit Rally on Friday, Oct. 22.

Although students wore black and silver face paint in previous years, black face paint is banned to address race and discrimination issues regarding students doing blackface at the rally. Antonelli and Ingano recommend that students wear grey and silver paint to continue rally traditions while being racially respectful.

Monday’s announcement regarding the face paint started with Ingano giving a brief history of blackface, explaining its origins in minstrel shows to dehumanize Black-Americans and its connotation in American History.

“These performances began as a way to degrade and ridicule Blacks both free and enslaved within the United States prior to the Civil War. These shows gave poor whites a feeling of superiority by defining class in racial terms, instead of by their economic status,” Ingano said. “[…] Blackface became a symbol of racist depictions into the Radio Age, and even into the early film industry.”

Ingano spoke to the presence and relevance of blackface at Westford Academy, stating that black face paint at the rally ties back to the racist and degrading values that blackface represented in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 

“Although not the component of daily life in 2021, anything resembling this practice certainly calls to a legacy of racism and bigotry,” Ingano said.

According to Antonelli, the repercussions of wearing black face paint on the day of the rally will result in student removal from the rally.

“The message here is that we do not engage in this practice, and we will continue not to. So please, follow the rules and adhere [to] all guidelines and expectations. […] If you do not adhere to the guidelines, […], you will be asked to leave the spirit rally,” Antonelli said. 

The push to educate the student body about blackface stemmed from a letter written on Aug. 24, 2021 by the Westford Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (DEI Committee) Co-Chairs Eric Barber-Mingo and Mamatha Jagannathan to the Westford School Committee.

The letter remarked upon the face-painting at Westford Academy for the spirit rally as well as pictures of blackface at the rally spread throughout social media, calling for more “awareness, education, and dialogue” in Westford regarding the practice of blackface.

“[…] Lack of awareness regarding this history [of blackface] can lead to hurtful actions within Westford Public Schools, as well as the dissemination of hurtful images via social media posts beyond the confines of Westford Public Schools – even if any such hurt is inadvertent,” Barber-Mingo and Jagannathan wrote in the letter.

The letter from the Westford DEI Committee was addressed by the school committee on Oct. 12, 2021. Superintendent Dr. Christopher Chew thought of the letter as an opportunity for a larger discussion.

To better educate the Westford youth about blackface, Chew is working with Ingano and Westford Academy English Curriculum Coordinator Janet Keirstead to incorporate race discussions and information into the Social Studies and English curriculums. 

Chew describes the pace of the education and conversation as a quick “sprint” before the spirit rally and a longer “marathon” to involve permanence and consistency of blackface awareness into the curriculum.

“Part of this [the education] is very much still going to be a sprint, because we want to make sure that the conversations are taking place before the spirit rally. […] We’re then going to go back and have a broader look at how we can make sure […] that this type of communication is continually being shared with students,” Chew said.

As a part of the “sprint” of awareness before the Spirit Rally, Antonelli and administrators intend to encourage a welcoming environment at the rally.

“Our primary goal is for everyone to feel welcome at Westford Academy and for this to be a fun-filled, spirited, afternoon,” Antonelli said.

Read a column on blackface at the spirit rally here