Commentary: Arizona State Right to Ban Blackface at Its Sports Venues

Arizona State University

Commentary: Arizona State Right to Ban Blackface at Its Sports Venues

But are school officials missing the point if they don’t look into the root of this racist act?

Published October 29, 2014

We can’t get away from the ignorance, for as much as we try, it trails after us like an FBI agent. That’s the message we want to leave with our white friends. Y’all just don’t seem to understand that naivety about our people’s history isn’t a free pass for racist behavior.

Unfortunately, students at Arizona State need a history class, because for them to find any defense for wearing blackface seems misguided at best and spitefully idiotic at worse.

They have scores of alternatives to black face paint. The school’s colors are a combination of maroon and gold, and the color black comes into play only because the school holds what it calls “black out” games from time to time. In those football games, students arrive in Sun Devil Stadium in black shirts, in black hats and, often, in blackface.

No one can make a big to-do about the black clothing. Black alone has always been an acceptable outfit; it’s never carried the historical baggage of mimicking Black people's skin the way some Vaudevillian performers used to do in the early half of the 20th century.

But this is a new millennium, and we ought to know that blackface doesn’t wear well as a costume. It’s not a tribute to anything positive, and to dismiss painting your face, as some misguided or ignorant white students do, as a trifle is to ensure you end up in an argument.

Black students have stood tall on this issue. They have demanded their university take a stand against it, and their demand hasn’t gone unheeded.

"ASU prides itself on being a diverse community and regardless of what the intentions of those individuals may have been, we recognize the racial overtones that such behavior carries and we regret any offense that this behavior may have caused," one university official said in a statement. "University officials have engaged students on the issue to ensure they understand why these actions were perceived as disrespectful and to reinforce our commitment to an inclusive campus community."

University officials vowed to not admit any students into arenas or stadiums if they arrive with their faces painted black.

Yet that seems not enough. It can’t be.

For the issue of blackface is less about the act itself and more about the mindset. At this stage in the ongoing debate about race in America, blackface should not be an issue we need to revisit. But here the issue is once again … on center stage at a respected institution of higher learning.

The university can denounce the act; it can bar students from a sporting event when they cross this line of acceptable conduct. All of this is good, but we are compelled to demand that university officials look deeper.

We want them to ask themselves what is wrong with a white person who insists on defending an act that is utterly indefensible.

Is the person to blame? Or is the institution, one with a pattern of racist behavior, to blame for abdicating its responsibility to use moments like these to reteach lessons its white students surely must have missed?

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

Watch Kevin Hart in a new episode of Real Husbands of Hollywood every Tuesday, 10P/9C.

BET Sports News -- Get the latest news and information about African-Americans in sports including weekly recaps, celebrity news and photos of your favorite Black athletes. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.

 (Photo : Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Written by Justice B. Hill


Latest in news