Backlash in Maryland and Illinois after several high school students wear blackface

In both cases, the schools are determining disciplinary action.

April 30, 2019, 7:06 PM

Two students at Walt Whitman High School in Maryland posted photos of themselves on social media in blackface and used the "n-word" in describing the picture over the weekend, according to Montgomery County Police.

A school resource officer was notified Monday about the image of the students who appeared to be wearing what “looks like mud on their face,” said Capt. Tom Jordan, a spokesman for the Montgomery County Police. The two students have been identified in what police consider a noncriminal "bias incident" and any disciplinary action will be left to the school, Jordan said.

Since the 1830s, blackface has projected gross, animalistic representations of African Americans, often using black face paint and exaggerated red lips. It has historically been used as a tool to maintain racial boundaries and reinforce the notion that black people were ultimately inferior, experts say.

PHOTO: Homewood Flossmoor High School is pictured in this undated image from Google.
Homewood Flossmoor High School is pictured in this undated image from Google.
Google Street View

In a letter sent to parents and students that was posted by a WJLA reporter on social media, Robert Dodd, the principal of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, said that the image was posted on a private social media account and “was seen by many of our students” and has been “deeply disturbing.”

“I want to emphasize as strongly as possible that this type of behavior will not be tolerated at Walt Whitman High School,” Dodd wrote. “Every student deserves to feel like Walt Whitman is their school. Racist incidents have a profoundly negative impact on how our students of color and their families perceive the safety, education, and support of school has to offer.”

According to the Maryland Department of Education's website, the school is predominately white, with about 66% of students identifying as white and only 4% identifying as black in 2018. Students who were involved will receive “significant consequences,” Dodd wrote.

Over 500 miles away in Flossmoor, Illinois, four Homewood-Flossmoor High School students were depicted in a photo and video wearing blackface and going through a drive-thru while making derogatory comments about African-American girls, according to ABC 7 Chicago.

Some students have planned a walkout in response, ABC 7 Chicago reported Tuesday. According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s website, the school is predominately black with nearly 69% of the school’s students identifying as such in the 2017-2018 school year.

PHOTO: This photo from social media appears to show people in blackface.
This photo from social media appears to show people in blackface.

In a letter posted to the school’s website, District Superintendent Von Mansfield and Homewood-Flossmoor High School Principal Jerry Lee Anderson said they received word of the posts Sunday and met with the students and families involved.

“The social media postings that were seen and heard were not representative of the high expectations we have for all students that attend our school,” Mansfield and Anderson wrote.

Due to student privacy laws, the identities of the students and actions taken in the wake of the incident won’t be discussed, the letter said.

Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld and Flossmoor Mayor Paul Braun said in a joint statement Saturday that the two villages condemn the behavior.

“No matter the age or the action of the person, hurtful and offensive behavior is neither accepted nor condoned,” Hofeld and Braun wrote.