Thursday, November 03, 2016

Blackface at Ingraham High

From The Stranger Slog comes a story about an Ingraham teacher who wore a Michael Jordan face mask and hand gloves to school for Halloween. I honestly found this story jaw-dropping if only for how long administrators allowed this at schools. 

Colino, who is white, was dressed as Michael Jordan. For his costume, he donned Jordan’s #23 Chicago Bulls jersey, sweatband, black gloves, and a rubber mask of the all-star athlete’s face. Some stunned students took pictures and videos of Colino in class, which circulated around the school through Snapchat.

But this wasn’t the first time Colino had worn his Michael Jordan outfit. He’s been sporting the costume—mask and all—throughout his 18-year career in the Seattle public school system, he told The Stranger in a phone interview.

“I tell my kids [every October] that Michael Jordan is coming to visit,” Colino said. “My intent was to honor Michael Jordan.”
So what happened once he got notification that someone was offended?
Around 2 p.m. on Halloween, Colino said the school’s principal, Martin Floe, notified him that someone found the Michael Jordan outfit hurtful. 


“The minute someone said it’s hurtful, the mask didn’t go back on,” he said. “I’m glad it was brought up to me. I talked to the kids at the beginning of all my classes [the next day]. They said 'this is not for you.'" 

What the students meant, he said, was that his costume embodiment of Black identity amounted to disrespectful appropriation.
What about those who objected?
At least two past students felt uncomfortable and unable to speak out. The student body at Ingraham is predominantly white (56 percent), with about 9 percent African American students, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Zufan Mitiku, a senior at IHS, was a freshman the first time she saw what she calls Colino’s “favorite” Halloween costume. She remembers that he stood at his classroom door to greet his students and asked each one to shake his hand—covered in the black gloves meant to be Jordan's Black skin.

“I was just a young student,” Mitiku said. “I was startled, because I didn’t know how to handle that.”

The next year, Mitiku founded the school's Black Student Union, which is designed to help students handle situations like this one. 

Dana Williams, 58, who works in the school’s attendance office and advises the Black Student Union, first saw the photo of Colino in his costume in a picture, and to her it looked like he was creating "a caricature" of Michael Jordan. The most disturbing part, she said, was the black gloves.

After years of experience, Williams said she is able to laugh at instances like these even though she finds them offensive. But she wishes her students didn't have to.
“These kids are going to hear all their lives, ‘Oh, I didn’t mean to offend you,’” Williams said. “It’s not intent [that matters], it’s impact.”
 Ms. Williams is right on one count and not another.  She's right that it's the impact that counts.  But laughing this kind of thing off? No.  That makes it seem okay to the person doing it.

Outcomes:
Williams said that Principal Martin Floe required Colino to apologize to all of his classes. Floe declined to comment at all.
A SPS spokesperson said the district is investigating the incident.

Colino planned to meet with the Black Student Union on Thursday. He said he sees the incident as his own "teaching moment."
“No one, especially in the kids in the Black community, should feel like this school isn’t a safe place for them,” Colino said. “There’s so much non-overt racism that happens in our society all the time that they don’t need a teacher that they trust and like to not [be trustworthy]. They need to know I’m their advocate completely. I have work to do to ge their confidence back.