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N.C. Opinions: Durham

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A good lesson for all in Duke student’s costume

From a Nov. 15 editorial in the (Durham) Herald-Sun:

There is a long and sorry history of blackface used in the entertainment industry in this country. It was used in minstrel shows to depict black people in a manner that can only be described as despicably stereotypical.

We are a long way from those days. So far, in fact, that today’s young people might not have a sense of what that history is – and what it means for people of all ethnicities.

Unfortunately, the incident that played out recently at Duke University is not unique. A women’s lacrosse player, Taylor Virden, dressed as the Buckwheat character from “The Little Rascals,” wearing an Afro-type wig and painting her face black (she is white). A photo of the costume appeared on Duke’s official athletics website. The student-athlete wore the costume at a party hosted by Duke’s lacrosse coach, Kerstin Kimel.

Kimel apologized and said that the costume reflected poor judgment.

“The Duke women’s lacrosse program celebrates Halloween with an annual gathering,” Kimel said. “This year, some of our costume choices were insensitive and entirely inappropriate. No offense was intended, but that does not matter because we should have realized how these choices would be viewed by those outside of our program.

“On behalf of our coaching staff and our student-athletes, we apologize to anyone we may have offended and understand while we believed we were making decisions in good fun, we should have been much more sensitive to the implications of our actions.”

The president of the Duke Black Student Alliance, Marcus Benning, said the apology was “spot on.”

“I appreciated the apology that was made by the coach,” Benning said. “They didn’t try to hide fault. They were very clear about the inappropriateness of the photo. They accepted blame immediately, which is important.”

Benning went on to say that “It was not done with malicious intent – at least we don’t think it was. It’s just a lack of awareness that caused her to make this decision.”

This is a reasonable response to an unfortunate decision by the student in question to wear blackface. Critiquing the intent of the student is beside the point. This type of costume is offensive on its surface, and that lesson appears to have been learned by all parties involved.

N.C. Opinions offers perspectives from newspapers across the state. The views expressed are not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.
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