California Middle School Student’s Suspension Over “Blackface” At Football Game May Head To Court


American football field at night

Was it blackface or not? That is the issue in question after a California middle school student at Muirlands Middle School was suspended “for wearing black face paint on his cheeks, chin and under his eyes at a high school football game.” The school claims it “was a mimicking of blackface, or painting one’s face in dark, exaggerated makeup to mock or ridicule Black people,” local news outlet La Jolla Light reports.

The student is being “identified as J.A. for privacy reasons by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to defending freedom of speech.”  

After the school was made aware of the incident, Muirlands principal Jeff Luna suspended J.A. “for two days, citing the occurrence as a ‘hate incident’ on his suspension notice. The notice stated the boy ‘painted his face black at a football game’ with the ‘intent to harm.’”

In addition, for the rest of the year, J.A. is also prohibited from attending any “San Diego Unified School District sporting events.”

J.A.’s family hired FIRE to help with his defense, who “offered its legal opinion to the district that the student was exercising free speech protected by the First Amendment and that his face paint had no racial undertones.”

Referring back to the initial question, how exactly is blackface defined? Per CNN, Blackface goes back nearly two centuries ago when “white performers first started painting their faces black to mock enslaved Africans in minstrel shows across the United States.”

The National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAAHC) states that “[t]hese performances characterized blacks as lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice.”

And as the battle against this hurtful practice continues to persist to this date, “[i]n each instance, those facing scrutiny for blackface performances insist no malice or racial hatred was intended,” writes the NMAAHC.

J.A.’s father said, “He had a fun, great night without any trouble.” The student’s father also claims that a Black security guard at the game was encouraging his son to add more black paint to his face. J.A.’s family is fighting to keep the suspension off his permanent record before he goes to high school and applies to college.

In a letter to Principal Luna, Aaron Terr, FIRE’s Director of Public Advocacy wrote, “As the First Amendment protects J.A.’s non-disruptive expression of team spirit via a style commonly used by athletes and fans — notwithstanding your inaccurate description of it as ‘blackface’ — FIRE calls on the school to remove the infraction from J.A.’s disciplinary record and lift the ban on his attendance at future athletic events.”

The letter continued with the fact that J.A. purportedly “followed a popular warpaint-inspired trend of athletes applying large amounts of eye black under their eyes, which has no racial connotations whatsoever.”

As of this publishing, the district has not responded to FIRE’s appeal to rescind the suspension. Terr said “The student’s father has said they intend to sue if the district does not reverse its decision…We plan to confer with the family soon about potential next steps.”


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