In what sources have called a “brush with wokeism,” a California middle schooler was suspended for wearing “blackface.” The school’s administration was quick to label the child’s behavior as offensive, but there was just one problem that they seemingly ignored as they dished out his suspension as well as additional punishment. Did they go too far? You decide.
A California middle school student, only identified by sources by the initials J.A., suffered what the NY Post described as a “brush with wokeism” when he painted part of his face black before attending a high school football game between La Jolla High School and Morse High School in the San Diego Unified School District.
With the lower portion of his face and undereye area painted black for the high school game, J.A. reportedly drew the ire of his Muirlands Middle School principal, who suspended the middle schooler over the alleged infraction and barred the boy from attending sporting events in his school district.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to defending freedom of speech, obtained J.A.’s disciplinary notice, which stated that the 13-year-old boy “painted his face black at a football game” and noted that he was to be suspended for two days, accused of causing “offense” with his partially painted black face, The Blaze reported.
According to the disciplinary notice, the boy’s offense was categorized as a “Hate Incident” that was deemed an “Offensive comment, [with] intent to harm.” The notice also stated that the school had implemented “Previous Interventions,” including a presentation called “No Place for Hate.”
Expressing concern over the school’s handling of the situation and standing up for the boy, whose parents were told in a meeting with the principal that he was banned from attending future athletic events for wearing blackface in addition to his suspension, FIRE wrote a letter to the principal. The letter, which pointed out that “J.A. wore his eye black throughout the game without incident,” called for the school to “remove the infraction from J.A.’s disciplinary record and lift the ban on his attendance at future athletic events.”
In the letter, FIRE also pointed out the obvious, which it seemed the school had ignored; namely, that the student was only following a “popular warpaint-inspired trend” used by athletes in recent years. “J.A.’s appearance emulated the style of eye black worn by many athletes,” the group explained. “Such use of eye black began as a way to reduce glare during games, but long ago evolved into ‘miniature billboards for personal messages and war-paint slatherings.'”
Which one is "racist?" ☆☆☆ California middle-schooler banned from sports over ‘black face' — but group says he was just wearing eye paint. pic.twitter.com/Md1UhO7DpZ
— Alice Liu (@chunkmusic) November 14, 2023
“Blackface is ‘dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.’ It has its origins in racist minstrel shows that featured white actors caricaturing black people, and generally entails covering the entire face in dark makeup and exaggerating certain facial features,” the group explained, according to Fox News. “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.”
Further defending the child against the school’s “frivolous” claim, FIRE also cited a Supreme Court precedent from Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, a 1968 case involving a group of students who wanted to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War. In that case, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students, saying that they “did not lose their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech when they stepped onto school property.”
“The Court made clear school officials cannot restrict student speech based on speculative, ‘undifferentiated fear’ that it will cause disruption or feelings of unpleasantness or discomfort among the student body. Rather, Tinker requires evidence that the speech has or will ‘materially and substantially disrupt the work and discipline of the school,'” FIRE said in the group’s letter to the school.
“There is no evidence J.A.’s face paint caused a disruption — let alone a material and substantial one — at the football game or at school afterward,” the group added. “The complete lack of disruption is unsurprising, as the sight of fans in face paint is familiar to and expected by anyone who has ever attended a football game or other sporting event.” Indeed, if you attend any sporting event or even view social media, you are bound to see eye-black concepts similar to J.A.’s, as evidenced in the video below.
Yes, the Muirland Middle School kid painted his cheeks and under-eyes with black paint, but photos show it’s nothing more than a common fan face job, imitating eye black worn by athletes. Although the San Diego Unified School District insisted the paint job amounted to an “offensive comment” with the “intent to harm,” they have presented no evidence to support such a serious allegation and are quite sadly mistaken, in my humble opinion.
Personally, I’m offended anyone could make such an unfounded accusation, giving a child an utterly false “racist” label that could mar his reputation for decades. It’s especially troubling and offensive that such a serious but unsupported allegation was made by someone in a leadership role at a public school. I am offended, but sadly, not surprised. Disturbingly, this is just one of many reminders that we constantly have to ask whether anyone can even pretend to see our actions as racist or offensive, lest we fall victim to wokeism or cancel culture. Sadly, such blurred, subjective lines only leave us doomed to fail, as this poor child and his family found out.