California Teachers and Coach Disciplined For Going To Halloween Party In Black Face

Serra_High_School_blackface_costume_Halloween_1383030296215_1181243_ver1.0_320_240_1383381690141_1198951_ver1.0_320_240I have previously written about the increasing monitoring and discipline of teachers for conduct in their private lives. In San Diego, three high school coaches and a volunteer teacher were suspended for wearing costumes with black face at a Halloween party. They were not doing a minstrel show but were going as the Jamaican bobsled team featured in “Cool Runnings.” The party was at the San Diego State University.

The punished individuals include the varsity head football coach, an assistant coach and a teacher at Serra High School will be suspended. Notably, a volunteer will also be suspended.

People can debate whether wearing makeup to look like a Jamaican bobsled time is racist. My concern is purely one of free of expression and association for teachers. This was not a criminal act. They were not participating in a KKK cross burning. They clearly do not believe that wearing black makeup is racist or wrong. They have a right to make such decisions in their private lives. Nevertheless, both the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League supported action to be taken against the teachers and coach.

I certainly understand why many find black face to be offensive and I am surprised that people continue to use it in costumes. However, free speech and association protects different values and expressions. Citizens are not required to satisfy majoritarian views on proper humor or, as the English call it, “fancy dress.”

Superintendent Cindy Marten took the group out for a public lashing, stating that “[t]hey send their apologies to any person or group of people they have offended and want to make it clear it was not their intention to offend anyone.” She called it a “critical teachable moment” but what does it teach about free speech and privacy for public teachers?

Lei-Chala Wilson, President of the NAACP’s San Diego Branch, praised the discipline and added “We found nothing funny when we saw that picture was posted.” The concern is that public teachers should not have to satisfy others in their private lives as to whether the public finds their jokes funny or their associations acceptable. I was struck how it was simply assumed that such private conduct off-hours are naturally the subject of public discipline and accountability.

What do you think?

184 thoughts on “California Teachers and Coach Disciplined For Going To Halloween Party In Black Face”

  1. Robin,

    The thing that bothers me about some Black foreigners and people like yourself is how you can be one of the posters on here said..of another’s cultures feelings.

    I was just reading the news article about the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team and how they seemed similarly indifferent about this Blackface incident and basically said that Black Americans were ” overreacting ” to this issue. Because of their inconsideration, I have lost all respect for them.

    Why is that some foreigners just think we need to shut up on what is hurtful to us? Ok, some Jamaicans may not find Blackface to be offensive,but just because it wasn’t part of Jamaican culture doesn’t mean I should put it in the backburner and call African-Americans crazy for feeling that way. Not too long ago, I read something about Korean culture about an offensive racial term that is used against some of them. As an African American woman , the word ” Zipperhead” appears to be harmless,but to some Koreans, it can be very offensive. It’s said that it was a term used during the Korean war where U.S. forces ran over Korean troops with their vehicles. Just imagine if I called them that term and just saying they are being hypersensitive. Do you think I should overlook that offense?

    Some foreigners have no idea about African-American culture, they only go by what is going on in their homeland. You may not think it’s a big deal,but it is and eventually, you will learn how significant the problem will be if you haven’t already.

    The reason why African Americans are offended by Blackface is because it was used to make fun of who we are. These same people who Blackface should not overlook it. Blackface is another expression of saying the “N” word. It’s starts of innocent until it become harmful. I liken it to Mel Gibson and Alec Baldwin. They expressed anti-gay,Black, and Jewish. It started off slowly, they apologized and did it again..and again until some people realized their true colors.

    African Americans know about their homeland , experiences and country more than some of our foreign brethern/sistern will. Don’t every downgrade what they have been through because we know the White experience ( here)more than you will ever know. The sad thing about it all is that ignorance breeds more ignorance. Blackface may have been a derogatory part of African-American history,but they will use that same thing against you no matter what part of the world you’re from. As the old saying goes ” If you’re not White, you’re not right”. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if a racist White person don’t like you, they will use anything to remind you your place in the U.S ,even Blackface. If you are dismissive of this piece of racism, eventually , they’ll think it will be ok to call you the “N” word.Most times , that is the way it rolls here.

  2. Pete,

    The flavor of my comments is pretty mild, I think, compared to the spicy Goth flavor of Titus’ pie.

  3. well Dredd..probably for the same reason black people like to refer to white people as Honkie. Then again the black community also throw the N word around like it is nothing. God forbid a white person use it.

    The costume wasn’t meant to be offensive…it was Halloween.
    People need to get off their high horses and stop using anything and everything to further an agenda and/or be afraid of repercussions.

    Racism has become such a CRUTCH.

  4. Mike,

    The truth cuts both ways. There is racism, and there is race-baiting. Persons of any, or no color, can engage in either or both.

    Some people “talk the truth”, and some are quite careless about the truth, especially if there is a microphone available. Rev. Sharpton may or may not have learned a lesson from being found liable for defamation in the Tawana Brawley case, but I certainly wouldn’t rely on him as a primary source of information about anything.

  5. The whole issue should be funny if it wasn’t for the end result of it all.
    It was Halloween people. Mr T is a black television character. Have we become so Politically correct that we can’t accept a Halloween costume for what it was.

    Too many people with opinions that demand we all accept.

    It isn’t so much about equality with a lot of people as it is about Power and/or fear in some form or another.

    If a black person (irregardless of their position in life) went out dressed as a white person it wouldn’t have got this attention or even been an issue.
    Frankly I am sick of the term ‘Honkie’ from the black population who also throw the N word around with no problem. IF the word is offensive, then it is OFFENSIVE no matter who says it folks.

    Don’t even get me started on the whining of the female population. Get over it folks…LIFE is tough and NOT always fair regardless of gender.
    There was a time I will never argue that women, indians, blacks etc got the short end of the stick but this isn’t THOSE days and many of the biggest whiners weren’t even born yet.

    So folks, GET OFF YOUR CRUTCH and live to be the best you can be.
    It would improve the lives of us ALL if we stop the complaining and improve life for us ALL.

    I have several black friends and we get along just fine.
    Because my friends aren’t based on color, gender or lifestyle.
    My friends are based on their attitudes.

  6. Well, having reread “Titus Andronicus “a few weeks ago and being about 2/3 of the way through the “Inferno”, I think (1) Sensitivity Camp won’t do much good, and (2) well, no, there’s not much that anyone could write in the comments section of a blog that would get close to Shakespeare’s or Dante’s graphic horror, so I’m not feeling cowed. I suppose I might be disturbed if you e-mailed it to me directly, but, as a blog post, not so much.

    I would be interested in responses to the questions I posed above, though, regarding masks as opposed to makeup. If I may be permitted a pun, I don’t think the answers are really black and white — there’s more nuance than some posters here seem to want to allow.

    What about the questions raised by Robert Downey, Jr.’s performance in “Tropic Thunder”, playing a white man playing a black man?

    What about situations where blackface has been proposed and encouraged by an African-American, as in the [in]famous Ted Danson-Whoopi Goldberg Friars Club incident?

    And, if blackface is and, presumably, was never appropriate, what are commenters’ views on John Howard Griffin? His activities, I think, demonstrate that intent matters.

    Although I disagree with much that randyjet has written, I think he makes a valid point that one should not by default presume evil intent. These coaches were not John Howard Griffin, but neither should one presume that they were the modern version of a minstrel show or or a rebroadcast of “Amos ‘n Andy”.

    I don’t remember where I read it, but at some point I was impressed with the advice that one should never presume malice where sheer stupidity provides an equally satisfactory explanation — a sort of specialized application of Occam’s Razor.

    There were multiple levels of stupidity here, starting with the choice of costume, not because it was necessarily malicious, but because it could be interpreted that way; second, going to an adult Halloween party in the first place (my opinion), regardless of the costume worn; third, allowing anyone to take pictures of you at a Halloween (or any party); fourth, posting (or allowing someone to post) the aforesaid pictures on any social media site (with or without privacy settings).

    All of that being said, it was still expressive conduct that was not an appropriate subject for governmental action, even as to employees.

    1. I must say, I admire your process, Porkchop. (Pretty odd for a muslim to praise pork!) Your questions are relevant and thoughtful, and reflect a genuine wish to understand rather than just shoot from the hip.
      It is for this topic as it was for the Trayvon Martin one, there was harm done (yes, any time someone feels hurt and/ or threatened by someone’s choice to use a defining characteristic of their being as an expression of their own freedom, there is harm, and that’s where things get complicated, who was harmed, how much harm was done, is that harm embraced, you have the right to harm, yes but should you…), but it is always disheartening when someone, in the name of their own liberty, blames the victim of an action.
      Ultimately, cultural insensitivity is like porn, “I know it when I see it”.
      Most of us on the other side of Randy, have acknowledged that people have the right to act as stupidly as they wish to, however, we also question the tendency of people to engage in such act that may offend, without any thought for those whom the act may offend.
      Why do we teach our children not to use mean words, not point, no talk behind people’s backs, not to whisper to each other while in a group? For the same reason we frown upon people using blackface.
      And yes, nothing is inherently good, nor is anything inherently bad, or evil. Intent really is the defining factor behind everything. Since we cannot read intent with certainty however, at least anyone not being Randy, we can only assume intent based on either the person’s history regarding that act, and/or our own history in relation to the act.
      We must acknowledge our charged history with blackface, and strangely enough, but as for everything, when we trust the person using it to be aware of the history, or to not have evil intents about it, we tend to give them a pass. That is well exemplified by the movie you quote Tropic Thunder, which I thought was incredibly smart while pretending to be dumb, and any Quentin Tarantino movie.
      In this case and as for the Trayvon one, I do not assume evil intent, but I also have a problem when people assume non-evil intent. So just as I can give the benefit of the doubt to the victimizer, I expect that the benefit of the doubt is also given to the victim, and more often than not, they should have more of a right to it.

      1. “I expect that the benefit of the doubt is also given to the victim, and more often than not, they should have more of a right to it.”


        As usual you cut to the meat. The use of playing the “race card” or PC is often the attempt to stifle protest against prejudice, therefore preventing the victim from complaining. The same is true in any discussion on this kind of a topic where Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are brought into it, as if saying that because of whatever supposed thoughts these two men has cannot be invoked, because of certain ways they have acted in the past. I’ve never been enamored by Rev. Jackson because I felt after MLK’s death he pushed others who were closer to MLK aside in a play for power. I also felt that his Operation Push in Chicago did more for him than it did for people of color in general. That being said, Jackson has through the years been a brilliant social commentator. Rev. Sharpton too has had his failings but has shown tremendous insight into the entire situation in America. They are not perfect people, but then “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” etc.
        Many people prefer to forget how MLK, Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas and Dr. Dubois were also caricatured. In fact any person of color who would rise to prominence talking the truth to those in denial will likewise be vilified. THe bottom line now, as it was many years ago when I was a child is that racial prejudice exists in America only now some bigots won’t admit to their bigotry. This was NOT by the way an indictment of those who’ve disagreed with me on this thread, but a general statement aqbout the use of PC and “playing the race card”.

        1. Yep, you said it Mike, and you said it well.
          I know by having talked to a great number of people, that those who have really suffered discrimination and abuse, and have been called degrading names and really suffered greatly, more often than not go out of their way to protect those currently experiencing it, or at least are reluctant to reject their claims of such. The most proximate benefit of having been touched by evil is to realize that one has a duty to protect others from it. Some unfortunately, see it as license to bully others, or at least to mock others for their inability to take it, as they themselves did. And those who use the legacy of Al Sharpton , or Jesse jackson, or even OJ as an example of why black people shouldn’t be offended by acts that demean them are truly, truly….wow!

  7. Porkchop, You’ll be receiving a summons for 2 weeks in a Sensitivity Camp. Pack your bags, Buster!

    1. “Porkchop, You’ll be receiving a summons for 2 weeks in a Sensitivity Camp. Pack your bags, Buster!”

      Yeah Porkchop, I bet you’re really cowed by us mean old PC people on this blog. 🙂

  8. Grilled w/ Bryant’s BBQ sauce from KC, my man. I assume anyone named “Porkchop” is a dude. Lamb chop was a woman puppet, however.

    1. What I saw on that video was not a respectful tribute by any means. You can’t have it both ways by saying it was merely a Halloween costume, to it was a tribute. People don’t wear Halloween costumes as respectful tributes.

      MS I did not see any video, just the photo. I am also unaware of YOUR rules as to what is appropriate for Halloween costumes. I guess that any person dressing as George Washington, Abe Lincoln or other notables who are widely admired, can ONLY be seen as mocking those persons. I can see that a person dressing as Abe Lincoln might get some flak for making fun of people who have moles on their face, but that is about it. As one poster stated can a white person ever color their face black to portray a black person. I think that the answer to that is yes as long as they do not do it in the Al Jolson, black face minstrel show style. I think it is absurd to say that ALL Halloween costumes MUST be mocking or that any change in natural skin color is automatically offensive.

      I think that I would like to go to a Halloween party dressed as Gen. Benjamin Davis if I could find some Army Air corps pinks to wear and color my face black with a name tag of Davis. I hardly think that would be mocking Davis and it would be hard to portray him with a white face. Then I guess that only blacks can play Othello in that case according to the NAACP since they are opposed to ALL black face presentations. In short, you really have to stretch to get much outrage at this costume. As I said earlier, if it was done in the minstrel style, then THAT would be offensive.

      1. “I am also unaware of YOUR rules as to what is appropriate for Halloween costumes”

        Randyjet as I explained previously I don’t have rules merely opinions that I believe are informed. When it comes to person behavior I am and always have been in the libertarian camp. Where I differ with that movement is in economics and my belief society should be fair. Because I would defend a NAZI’s right of free speech doesn’t mean that I’m not able t5o the excoriate the person..

        1. MS Your contention was that Halloween costumes can ONLY be mocking or derogatory in nature. Now that may be how YOU run your parties, but it does NOT apply to the rest of us, so your assertion is simply false. I see that many other folks here think that way as well. Of course, you dodge the question that dressing as Washington or Lincoln must be derogatory too. It may well be that depending on how the person dresses up but it cannot be said to be a general rule for all. In fact, I would consider dressing up as Gen. Davis who I have great respect for and I would use black face since it is impossible to dress up as him without it. I would have NO problem explaining to any child why I was using black face in this role if I were their teacher.

          As for the NAACP, while I think it is a fine organization that has and is doing good work, they are not infallible. Especially so in their ban on ANY black face under any and ALL circumstances. I cite the fact that such a view would prevent any white from playing the role of Othello.

          The question as put by Prof Turley was NOT your right to excoriate the person, but the right of a person to NOT be punished by the government for offending persons on their own time and dime. There is a major question as to there even being an offense to begin with. I don’t think the NAACP should have the right to demand that ALL of us bow down to their cultural dictat and to have the government enforce that demand. They are simply wrong in this instance, and we should not have a knee jerk reaction to back them up when they go out so far.

          If you are so all fired up against mocking costumes, I hope that you will be in favor of banning any depiction of witches in Halloween as they are usually done with pointed hats, long noses, and old hag type depictions. Since there are a lot of Wiccans in this country, I am surprised that nobody has complained about this gross caricature of Wiccans which is most certainly demeaning. I wonder how any teacher can have the child of a Wiccan in their class and justify the standard decorations. The school district should be suspending ALL teachers who put such things up in their classrooms since it is on school time and property.

          1. “MS Your contention was that Halloween costumes can ONLY be mocking or derogatory in nature. Now that may be how YOU run your parties, but it does NOT apply to the rest of us, so your assertion is simply false.”


            Again I was expressing my opinion, not requesting any law be made, in fact stating I was against legal consequences for stupid behavior that harms no one physically. Also I don’t do Halloween….period. My children did and we of course assisted them. They’re grown now and do their own thing. I don’t enjoy dressing in costumes and won’t do that either. Call me what you will but that is how I feel. 🙂

            Now also again. I am stating my opinion that this particular wearing of blackface was racially insensitive and as such bigoted. I’m quite aware that some here don’t believe in racial/ethnic insensitivity and it is my contention that such behavior divides us as peoples, rather than unites us as humans. You’re welcome to differ.

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