A high school teacher in California was placed on administrative leave after he wore blackface in front of his class on Halloween in what appeared to be an imitation of rapper Common.
Chris Norwood, president of the school board in Milpitas, the city just north of San Jose where the incident occurred, said in a statement Sunday that the behavior was “inappropriate, unprofessional and insensitive” and called for an investigation.
“As an African American man, the history of blackface reminds me of the cruelty, hatred and fear my parents and people of African ancestry have dealt with in the past and still experience today around the world,” Norwood said. “Unfortunately, blackface still permeates global society today through social media, comedy and fashion.”
The episode was amplified on social media Friday, when one of the students in the teacher’s classroom posted a 23-second video of the performance on Twitter.
“With AI Microsoft technology, the future is up to you,” the teacher says in the video while wearing a shirt and jacket similar to the ones worn by Common in an advertisement for Microsoft.
In that one-minute commercial, which was released last year, the rapper, activist and actor talks about technology as a tool for empowerment. (Representatives for Common did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.)
“It hurts to know that this type of cultural insensitivity and lack of cultural awareness still hovers in the background,” the superintendent of the Milpitas Unified School District, Cheryl Jordan, and the principal of Milpitas High School, Francis Rojas, said in a statement. “We are committed to strengthening our school environment through culturally relevant and respectful education designed to address prejudice and racism so that we can prevent bullying and harassment.”
School officials did not identify the teacher, who was named by local news outlets but could not be reached for comment Tuesday. In response to questions about the episode, Norwood said, “The district is currently conducting an investigation on the matter and cannot provide comment on any specifics at this time.”
“He’s a white male, so he came to school with his face painted and he tried to act as if he was the rapper,” Karrington Kenney, the student who posted the video, said in an interview with local news outlet KTVU.
“To see that he really thought that was OK and it was a joke — it really hurts, especially being one of the handful of black people that we have at our school,” she added.
Blackface performances in the United States, which have roots in minstrel shows of the early 1800s and became especially widespread during the early 20th century, have persisted despite criticism that they amplify hurtful, demeaning and racist stereotypes.
Another high school in California made headlines this spring after a cheerleader wore blackface and used a racist slur in a video that spread on social media in late May and early June.
Major brands including Gucci and Prada have recently pulled products criticized as racist because they evoked blackface.
There have also been multiple political scandals involving blackface this year. In September, photos and a video emerged of Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, dressing up in blackface and brownface in the 1990s and in 2001. (He went on to win a narrow victory in a federal election last month, though his Liberal party lost its majority in the House of Commons.)
And in February, Virginia’s state leadership was thrown into turmoil after Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, both Democrats, acknowledged wearing blackface in the past.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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