Students in Blackface Re-enacting Chris Brown Beating Rihanna Stir Strong Reactions – What’s Yours? [POLL/VIDEO]
Students at an upstate New York high school homecoming rally were treated to a 30 second skit performed by 3 of their fellow classmen, 2 of whom were in blackface re-enacting the 2009 domestic assault incident between singers Chris Brown and Rihanna.
You could imagine the reaction…given that the 3 are white; that the incident supposedly makes light of domestic violence; and most of all, that 2 of them were made up in blackface.
Or, if you look at the picture, not actually blackface, but a toner added to darken their skin.
It was a homecoming rally to cheer on the Waverly Wolverines football team. They were undefeated this year. Everyone was proud.
Then, in the midst of the cheers and a sea of red and white pom poms came a 30-second skit that, for some, turned an afternoon of school pride into one of shame.
Three white male students involved in the skit made light of domestic violence, and they did it in racist manner, say some.
Two were in blackface as they re-enacted a 2009 domestic abuse incident in which singer Chris Brown assaulted then-girlfriend Rihanna. The student who played Brown was vying for the school's "Mr. Waverly" title -- a school tradition in which skits are performed and the one that garners the most applause wins the title.
On Monday, Waverly alum Matthew Dishler posted a photograph of the skit on CNN's iReport. He says someone shared the image on Facebook.
The photo went viral.
By Tuesday afternoon, the CNN iReport had more than 46,000 views and showed up on Huffington Post, Buzzfeed and Gawker and in local newspapers.
Suddenly, Waverly High School became synonymous with racism and sexism.
Twitter lit up with comments about the skit. Many were critical, but some defended the skit.
"I don't think it was offensive at all," said Chelsea House, who earned her high school diploma from Waverly last year and moved to Alabama but returned for homecoming last week and saw the skit.
"There's nothing wrong with blackface. There's nothing wrong with dressing up as a black person. Black is but a color," House said.
Waverly Central School District Superintendent Joseph Yelich said Tuesday that he did not believe the students in the skit intended to offend anyone.
Waverly resident Thomas Rumpff, a 2007 graduate of the high school, said he believed most of the kids were unaware of the historical context of blackface, a form of theatrical makeup used by white people in minstrel shows that perpetuated racist stereotypes of African-Americans.
Rumpff said the Rihanna incident had also been satirized online and on television before.
"Was this a little bit inappropriate? Yes," he said. But said the incident "has been completely blown out of proportion."
The Waverly High skit was approved by school officials before it was performed, Yelich said. He acknowledged the problem and said he was speaking with students, teachers and staff at the school in the coming days.
Other skits at the pep rally involved Tarzan and a dairy farmer milking his cows. Last year, a student played Tiger Woods, also in blackface. "I have heard about blackface, but ... they're portraying Hollywood events," alum Ryan Bronson said. "It would be the same thing if he bought a mask."
Bottom line, Bronson said: People are being too sensitive.
And on that count, I’d have to agree…with one exception.
I have a difficult time imagining that anyone could think it’s acceptable to portray a domestic violence situation in anything but a serious light.
Even if it’s a skit that had been run before by SNL.
But it’s the blackface component…the seemingly more innocuous part of the skit…that seems to have everyone up in arms.
And on that count, I’d have to go along with the assessment of the Superintendent in saying that the students, in using some kind of skin toner to portray Brown and Rihanna, meant no harm nor showed any racist intent.
Rather, it was more along the lines of not understanding the historical context in which blackface had been used in the past.
But since this isn’t the first time a blackface incident had been looked upon askance, isn’t it possible that the historical significance of blackface is losing it’s racist meaning with the passage of time?