'Blackface' Suspension Of Local 8th Grader Triggers Free Speech Battle

LA JOLLA, CA — A La Jolla middle schooler has been suspended for allegedly wearing blackface to a high school football game, but freedom of speech advocates contend the school district’s overreach has turned a misunderstanding into a civil rights violation.

The student, identified by the civil rights group the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression simply as J.A. to protect the boy’s privacy, wore black face paint to a game between La Jolla High School and Morse High School on Oct. 13. A friend slathered him in paint from below his eyes to his chin, leaving a center strip from his forehead and down his nose, lips and upper chin unpainted. According to his father, the child was emulating the facepaint many NFL players use.

“He had a fun, great night without any trouble,” the student’s father told Cal Coast News.

Find out what's happening in San Diegowith free, real-time updates from Patch.

However, Muirlands Middle School Principal Jeff Luna characterized the look as blackface, constituting a potential hate incident with “intent to harm.” Noting that many students at Morse High School are Black, Luna suspended J.A. from school for two days and banned him from future athletic events for wearing “blackface,” according to his father.

Click Here:

In appealing the boy’s suspension, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression assembled a collage of NFL players wearing black “warpaint.”

Find out what's happening in San Diegowith free, real-time updates from Patch.

J.A. was not wearing blackface — he was engaging in harmless and constitutionally protected expression, Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression Director of Public Advocacy Aaron Terr told Patch.

“The claim that J.A.’s face paint constituted blackface is frivolous. Blackface is ‘dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people,'” Terr wrote in a letter to the school appealing the suspension. “By contrast, J.A. followed a popular warpaint-inspired trend of athletes applying large amounts of eye black under their eyes, which has no racial connotations whatsoever.”

The boy and his family asked the school to rescind the suspension and clear his name. However, the district denied their appeal.

A spokesperson for the district did not return Patch’s call for comment.

The boy’s father said he would consider suing the district to reverse the suspension, Terr said.

“He just wants to clear his son’s name,” Terr added.

If the boy had genuinely donned blackface, it could be considered a school disruption, giving the district potential authority to take disciplinary action, but the boy’s face paint closely resembles that of popular athletes rather than blackface, he added.

Schools are supposed to be teaching students the principles and values of our democracy, but in violating the civil rights of J.A., they are teaching kids how to devalue bedrock rights, he said. It’s something that should concern every American, he added.

“It is well-established that public school students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate,” he added. “As the Supreme Court recently reaffirmed, America’s public schools are the nurseries of democracy. They accordingly maintain an interest in protecting students’ freedom to express themselves.”

Get more local news delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for free Patch newsletters and alerts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *