*Talk about being clueless. When a group of teen girls from Sullivan High School ran onto the football field on November 5 for a powder-puff game, school principal Jennifer Schmidt recalls her gut reaction was, “Oh my gosh.”
“And then I thought, ‘Oh, they don’t mean anything by it. Just let it go. No one thinks anything of it.’ I didn’t think anyone did,” says Schmidt.
“Evidently, someone did.”
Photos taken during the game and later posted on Facebook show twelve members of the senior class wearing full-blown blackface. The reactions to the photos have been rippling within the small town of Sullivan (60 miles southwest of St. Louis) ever since.
That close to St. Louis? Of all places to not think anything of it.
While you would think these young whites would know better by now; and their school principal would have a clue about these types of things, Schmidt remarks how “very embarrassed and shocked” the students are “at some of the responses they’ve gotten, because I think some people had some stuff on Facebook and got the wrong intention.”
Schmidt says that the powder-puff football tournament is a yearly tradition at the school, that is organized by the junior class. Each grade fields a team, the football coaches stand in as referees, and members of the boys’ varsity football team act as coaches. The entrance fees from the tournament benefit prom.
“It’s just a fun kind of fundraiser,” Schmidt says. “There were a few people in the crowd, not a lot. It was cold.”
But what, pray tell, was the intention of this blackface…the one that was so misunderstood by others’ who saw it?
Schmidt tells Daily RFT that photos were intentionally taken at a distance, to the point where it’s impossible to discern the painted faces. She adds that it’s been common practice for the senior girls’ team to wear face paint during the powder-puff football tournament, essentially as a parody of the eye black football players normally wear to decrease glare from the sun and lights. The face paint also serves to “to intimidate the underclassmen.”
According to Schmidt, in previous years the girls have wore combinations of the schools’ colors — black and gold. But when the senior girls arrived prior to the November 5 game, they discovered everyone had brought the same color face paint — black.
“So that’s what they wore,” says Schmidt. “There was nothing racial about it. They didn’t have any other intention other than to just try to intimidate the underclassmen.”
Schmidt tells Daily RFT that the school hasn’t taken any disciplinary action against the students in the photos.
“I can assure you they will not be wearing black face paint again,” she says. “In fact, we’re probably just going to end the face-paint thing, and nobody wears any at all.”
“It was pretty clearly offensive to us,” says Leigh Kolb, an English and journalism instructor at East Central College who also teaches courses on composition, media diversity and African American literature. “It’s an example of…likely not egregious and malicious intent, but a lack of historical context.”
This lack of knowledge, says Kolb, isn’t just restricted to girls’ powder-puff football games. During the same class, a student showed Kolb a Twitter photo from a Washington man who dressed as Darren Wilson for Halloween — along with a friend who donned blackface for a Michael Brown costume.
Read more at River Front Times.