A student wearing blackface sparks racial tension

Insensitive photo of a college student sporting blackface goes viral and causes a media-storm

More stories from Sadie Sedlmayr



College student wears blackface and faces the consequences of her actions

A Kansas State University student, Paige Shoemaker, has recently been expelled from her college after Snapchatting a photo of herself and a friend wearing black clay face masks with the caption “Feels good to finally be a n***a.”

Desmund Weathers, a fellow student posted the image to Twitter, where it quickly became viral — promoting public outcry from the masses. He responded to the image with: “Welcome to Kansas State University. Where breakfast in the morning is some K-State Family with a side of Racism.”  

Now, I know some folks might point out black people do refer to each other using that same word. So why is it offensive when one race uses it, and not the other? It then becomes an unfair, double standard.  The answer will always be the same: it’s never okay to use that derogatory term in any way.

Other people might argue that Shoemaker has every right to freedom of speech and expression under the guise of the first amendment. They’d be right, but if she has the right to free speech, so do the naysayers.

The intent also matters, but at the end of the day, it all comes from a place rooted in hate. For this reason, I expect that anyone who uses this word will also be expelled, no matter what race they are.

Shoemaker apologized following Weathers’ tweet on Facebook with her friend, Sadie Meir. It quickly became viral — promoting public outcry from the masses.

“We clearly understand that what was said and done was completely disrespectful an inside joke between our friends that represents ‘West Coast is the best coast.’ We never intended for the picture to offend anyone.”

Although this subtle attempt at saving face was a nice gesture on Shoemaker and Meir’s part, the truth of the matter is no matter how you slice or dice it, the photo posted was ignorant and crass. It was going to be offensive to anyone who knows the history of blackface and what it represents.

I don’t buy that these girls didn’t know this photo was going to incite a strong reaction from the masses. Either they fell asleep in class during black history month in high school or they really are just oblivious to other races besides their own. Whatever the case may be, there is still no excuse for these actions.

Blackface was a form of makeup worn by white male performers who portrayed African-American characters in theater, using burnt cork to blacken their skin. Even though these girls wore a face mask, the intent was still the same.

Shoemaker added more in her apology.

“We accept that there will be people who won’t forgive us, but something had to be said,” she said. “Ask anyone who knows us, we are the most accepting and least racist people. We know that we will rise up and learn from this mistake.”

I call bull on this whole response. First, her justification is skewed. I’ve heard the phrase, “I’m not prejudiced because I have friends or family members who are this race or that race,” too many times to count and although she phrased it differently in her post, the meaning behind it is the same.

I’m tired of this pretext being overused as if it holds some merit for doing and saying ill-informed, insensitive things. She was disrespectful, and I’m glad she is mindful of that, but to say she is “the most accepting and least racist of people” is laughable. Her actions tell us otherwise.

The University’s Interim Associate Provost for Diversity Zelia Wiley addressed the situation with a post on the school’s website on Thursday, Sept. 16.

“On Sept. 15, the university received notice that a derogatory social message and photo was sent out via social media. The involved person is not currently enrolled at the university,” Wiley wrote. “This racially offensive photo with a derogatory message has upset the K-State family and is not in concert with our principles of community. Such messages on social media are harmful to all.”

Shoemaker spoke later on camera to local news station WGAL about the use of the ethnic slur. She admitted to casually using the degrading designation in her peer group.

“We’re a big family,” Shoemaker said. “So that word does not offend anyone in our group.”

I rest my case here.  Just because Shoemaker and her friends use it around each other doesn’t make it acceptable to use it out in the real world, where there is every shade under the sun. She should’ve apologized and taken a bite of some humble pie instead of trying to validate what she did. Now all she’s learning is a valuable lesson on what it means to share everything on a social network.

If she didn’t want to be judged, then she shouldn’t have put it out there for the world to see. In this day and age, she should know she lives in a politically correct world, which means her actions on social media platforms are seen and can be taken as inflammatory whether they are intentional or unintentional. But, I guess, we live and we learn.
Hopefully, people use this incident as an example to be more mindful of what they say and do on matters they know nothing about, particularly blackface.