Parents in NJ ‘blackface’ controversy: Don’t use our son as racist poster child
BRICK — The parents of a white middle school student who’s black paint-covered face created a stir this month say school officials threw their son under the bus in order to quell the public outcry.
A picture of the 8th-grade student at Veterans Memorial Middle School was posted to Facebook by Aimee VanDuyne, who told the Asbury Park Press that it was taken by her son, a black student at the school.
VanDuyne was outraged that adults in the school allowed the boy to wear blackface — a historically racist practice connected to minstrel shows, which meant to demean black people — during a school event celebrating world cultures.
Brick Interim Superintendent Thomas Gialanella called the incident an "innocent mistake" and said that the student “says he didn’t mean anything by it.”
Gialanella also said that staff and students at the mostly white school district will get more sensitivity training.
But the boy’s father — who spoke Thursday to New Jersey 101.5 — says his son wasn't wearing blackface.
"My son doesn't even know what that is," said the father, who New Jersey 101.5 agreed not to name so as not to publicly identify the teenager. We also are not sharing the photograph for the same reason.
The father said his son and other students painted streaks of color on their faces for the performance. He said his son donned eye black and tried to fashion it in the exaggerated style favored by Washington Nationals baseball player Bryce Harper. During the event, however, the anti-glare grease paint streaked and other students rubbed it across his face, the father said.
The township resident said he raised his son to respect people of all backgrounds. As a result of the controversy, he explained to his son what blackface was.
"I had to look it up myself to make sure I had the facts straight," he said.
The father said he has no problem with the school teaching racial sensitivity. But even though his son was not punished by the school, he said their announcement of the sensitivity training after this incident makes his son look guilty.
"He’s very upset. He knows it's not true. All of his friends, they all know it's not true," his father said.
The father was also upset that VanDuyne shared the photograph of his son on the internet, saying she was promoting her "platform at my son's expense."
"You’re taking this out on a 14-year-old boy who did nothing wrong and yet you're turning this to suit your needs."
VanDuyne did not return a request for comment, but said on her Facebook page that she met with school administrators who asked for her input on developing anti-racism programs in the district and invited her to give a presentation to the school.
"They explained the intent of the face as well as acknowledging that intent doesn't matter! They admitted it was ignorance on the part of the teachers," she wrote. "I didn't give them a pass, although they tried it. [T]hey are very concerned that it looks like they tolerate racism when they absolutely do not. I told them I would call off my tribe but that we were going to hold their feet to the fire."
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also on New Jersey 101.5: