The photos were quickly removed after some students appeared to be in blackface and a black-painted baby doll hanging from a stick was seen in a crowd.
SHELLEY, Idaho – Last week, Shelley High School posted photos from its annual Russian Olympics on social media, the school’s competitive take on coming home. The photos were quickly removed after some students appeared to be in blackface, with a student seen carrying a black painted doll hanging from a stick.
Students were asked to wear clothing associated with their grade level, according to Brennen Kauffman at Idaho Falls Register. The majority of the senior class wore black clothes, and three senior citizens were seen with their faces painted black.
The backlash from social media posts showing what appears to be a blackface student has been swift. However, so did the reaction of those who supported and defended the students.
When asked how this could happen, the school directed 208 to a statement posted on the school and district websites.
The statement reads, in part;
The goal of Russet Olympics is to promote unity, camaraderie and school spirit. We welcome and invite everyone to witness and experience, firsthand, the unifying inclusive environment that unfolds at this annual event. It is unfortunate that some misinterpret this year’s event. It is never our intention to offend or belittle. We will use this as a learning opportunity. We look forward to ending this difficult year focusing on and supporting our students.
For Class of 2019 Shelley High School graduate Keeleigh Sheri, her first reaction to seeing the photos was “Oh no.”
Sheri was one of three black students in her whole class and seeing pictures of students with what appeared to be black faces was very interesting.
She said she “wants” to believe that what happened came from a place of ignorance, not hatred.
“I want to believe it was just something stupid they did. Shelley just seems to be doing everything she can to ignore what’s going on,” she said. “I kind of felt like it was just deaf. Why didn’t anyone stop him?”
Sheri, who now attends BYU-Idaho, said the responsibility for what happened lies with the school for allowing this to happen.
The NAACP Pocatello chapter agrees with Sheri. In one Facebook post, the group explained the racist history of blackface and said students should be “ashamed” if they knew it.
“We don’t know if the students were aware of the significance of wearing ‘blackface’. If they did, they should be ashamed and apologize. What we do know is that the responsible adults present at the the event should have known and advised the students that what they were doing was inappropriate. We also know that the photos of the students should never have done on the school’s Facebook page “, the group wrote, in part.
The NAACP explained that blackface began when white artists wore dark makeup to represent black people and “were very often unflattering and relied heavily on exaggerated stereotypes and inaccurate caricatures.” Blackface was common from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.
“The practice is viewed as deeply offensive,” the NAACP branch told Pocatello.
Sheri did not label the incident as outright racist and said she found it difficult to use it, even when it was obvious. However, she had no problem calling the baby doll painted black and hanging on a stick racist.
“If you don’t understand blackface or why it’s offensive, why even unintentionally recreating it is offensive, then you have to go and find the story behind it, and put some thoughts in your brain and think about it,” Sheri mentioned. “Like really internalizing that, put yourself in someone else’s place, someone else’s body and think, ‘why would that be offensive to me if I was black? How would I feel watching this? How does that sound out of context? “