Dear Administration, Faculty, Staff and Students:
I am writing this letter to address some concerns about an incident which occurred this past weekend, which I feel that we, as members of the University of Richmond community, need to address as a collective. On Saturday the 27th of October, I saw a young Caucasian student in a Halloween costume, wearing fake dreadlocks, a black painted face, and large painted pink lips. This image immediately struck a nerve because it automatically resonated with blackface and the hurtful tones which it conveys.
For those who do not know, blackface is a term used to describe the pitch black makeup or shoe polish white entertainers used to put on to mock and ridicule black people during the Jim Crow era. This black face paint was often adorned with large pink lips and large eyes, and came to embody the coon, or darkie image. Not only did white people use this form of make-up to mock African Americans, but it became the case that if a black person wanted to be employed in the entertainment industry at the time, s/he was forced to portray this painful caricature of his or herself. Therefore, you can imagine my shock, outrage and pain when I saw this image, almost 150 years since the end of slavery, and over 50 years since the end of segregation.
You may be asking what is the purpose of telling everyone this? First and foremost, as a community we need to realize what is going on around our campus, and act accordingly. Second, the hurtful nature behind the image needs to be addressed as many people may be ignorant to the history of blackface. One would hope for the sake of peace that this young man was just that, ignorant, but ignorance can be fixed with education. Third, we see racist incidents happen all the time at other schools, especially in light of the Jena Six, and I think it's time acknowledge UR's own shortcomings, instead of glossing over them in an attempt to make everything seem copacetic, when in reality it's not. Last, but certainly not least, I want to make sure there is no repeat of this incident, as the racial tensions it could/would incite would be extremely detrimental to race relations on campus.
That being said, I appeal to the UR community to come together to tackle ignorance and educate itself, because if this was an educated person wearing this costume then to me it clearly constitutes a hate crime. Any programming ideas, discussion forums, or anything to help fight this hurt would be greatly appreciated, as well as a relaying to all those around how inappropriate this dress is, especially as Halloween approaches. I write this appeal not only as the president of the Black Student Alliance, but as a concerned student who feels that the campus needs to work on meeting its goal of being an all inclusive community. If anyone wants to help myself and UR's BSA in our efforts, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, because the more people who speak out against injustices the more clout it carries.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter, and I hope you will find it within yourself to help act on a situation which definitely requires action.
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