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article imageBoy's blackface costume for MLK history project sparks reactions

By JohnThomas Didymus     May 19, 2012 in Odd News
A second-grader at the Meridian Ranch Elementary School, Sean King, dressed up as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., as part of an assignment for his history class, caused reactions after he used make-up to blacken his face for the class presentation.
AP reports that the white Colorado second-grade student who wore blackface paint as part of a Martin Luther King costume drew criticism from students and school officials. According to MSN, Sean King showed up at school on May 16, dressed up as Martin Luther King with black face paint and mustache.
CBS reports that a school spokesperson said a complaint was lodged about the boy's make-up and the principal decided that the costume was a "disruption." According to KRDO.com, Stephanie Meredith, spokesperson for the principal, said that it wasn't only the school's staff that complained about Sean's face paint. Other students did as well. KRDO.com reports the spokesperson said: “When other students are offended by something, it is the principal’s role that the educational environment is safe for all students."
According to AP, the Colorado boy said he was only trying to honor the slain civil rights leader. He said school officials complained that his blackface paint costume was "inappropriate and would be disrespectful to black people, but I say that it's not, I like black people."
CBS reports the boy complained: "They wanted me to clean up immediately or leave."
The boy's parents knew about the costume and came to the school to watch their son's presentation. The boy was pulled out of class and the principal asked the boy's mother to remove the paint but she refused and took her son home. According to the Sean's mother, Michelle King-Rocha, it was the "wax museum day" for Sean's second grade class and each child was assigned a historical figure dress up as. KRDO.com reports she said Sean was so excited for the project. She said Sean told her, "Mom, I want to wear a black suit because that’s what he wore, a black tie, a white shirt and also I want to do my face black and wear a mustache."
Sean's mother continued: “Right before it was time to come in (to the classroom), the principal came up and stated he (Sean) was to take the face mask off. There was a person in the faculty that had an issue with it."
But Sean's mother disagreed with the principal. She did not think the face costume was offensive, rather she was surprised that anyone would be offended. She said: "I think it's pretty sad that you've got a principal and a faculty member that are acting the way they are when they should be setting an example for children."
Other people agreed with Sean's mother. KRDO.com reports that Pam Page, a member of the school’s PTA, who was also a parent participating in the class project, agreed that it was ridiculous for the school to ask Sean to wash his face. She said: “I’ve never seen anything like this happen before. I’ve always been extremely proud of the school and where we live. I have two boys here. I’m extremely disappointed. If my own son, who is blonde, was chosen to do Martin Luther King, Jr., I would have gotten him a black wig and painted his face too."
The Hufington Post reports that Bill Stevens wrote on the Meridian Ranch Elementary Facebook page: "I really would like an honest answer to why a young man was told to remove his make up portraying Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his presentation. It seems school districts today are just a bit over zealous when it comes to racial correctness. If this young man wasn't disrespecting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or his audience then why would you do something like this? This is what causes racial division in our country today. Why not taking more of an interest in what students are trying to convey instead of hamstringing then when they thought was correct. I'm interested in your response."
It seems that Mrs. King-Rocha, Bill Stevens and Pam Page need a lesson in history to appreciate the historical context that explains why some school officials and students found Sean's awkward representation of Martin Luther King offensive.
AP reports that blackface racial caricatures that featured white performers playing stereotyped black characters were common in minstrel shows in the 19th century. Minstrel shows featuring "blackface" white actors lampooned black people "as dim-witted, lazy, buffoonish, superstitious, happy-go-lucky, and musical."
According to Steve Klein of The King Center in Atlanta, the youth apparently had good intentions but the child and his family need to understand some people still feel offended by white people wearing the makeup because it reminds them of the recent history of white performers portraying blacks in an insulting manner while wearing the blackface costume. He said, "These shows portrayed blacks as subservient, childish and had negative stereotypes."
According to AP, Meridian Elementary Principal Erica Mason, plans to invite the local chapter of the NAACP to help set up a class for adults and children to understand the historical context that explains why many find the blackface "Jim Crow" stereotype offensive.
More about Sean King, MLK history, Martin Luther King