Second-graders wearing blackface masks for school performance causes uproar

An Atlanta charter school has issued an apology and launched an investigation after causing an uproar for staging a black history performance which saw second-graders wearing blackface masks.

Kindezi Old Fourth Ward sincerely apologizes and accepts responsibility for the hurt, anger, frustration, and disappointment caused by the poor judgment we made in having students use masks that mimic blackface while reciting Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem We Wear the Mask at our Black History program Thursday night,” a statement posted to the school’s Facebook page reads.

“We are deeply committed to ensuring that this never happens again and are immediately taking the following actions: The ​Kindezi Schools is conducting a thorough investigation into this matter; … providing teacher education on cultural competency and ensuring our staff has a thorough understanding of our shared history regarding race and racism in America, and how to engage in productive conversations with our students and the community; … holding conversations with students to provide the historical context of the imagery and poem used, as well as providing them with an opportunity to express their feelings and thoughts; … and initiating a conversation with the Old Fourth Ward community to help initiate the healing process.”

Video of the divisive performance drew outrage from many parents, with Marcus Coleman telling CBS 46 that it was “damaging” and “dangerous.”

“Theatrical messages are powerful, but when those theatrical messages are woven in the very fabric of the buffoonery and ‘coonery’ of this country, I do not feel that imagery is powerful,” he added.

Commonly worn by white performers in early 19th-century minstrel shows, blackface masks are emblematic of racism and mockery of black culture.

“Everyone who sat in a rehearsal and decided that Sambo masks were the correct representation of the mask this poem referenced should be fired,” said one upset commenter. “Period.”

“The poem is not the problem at all,” read another comment. “The fact that you’re highlighting it and not those disgusting masks shows you do not yet realize what you’ve done: taught an entire class of second-graders that it’s perfectly okay to wear a mask that demeans another culture… This apology is full of excuses. It says you still do not understand what was wrong here.”

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