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Video showing Ionia student in blackface causes concern

Some are worried that the students involved were not told to take it off, and it's sparked a deeper discussion.

IONIA, Mich. — A video taken during an Ionia High School football game is raising some concerns. It shows a student in blackface in the student cheering section.

Some are worried that the students involved were not told to take it off, and it's sparked a deeper discussion.

Lindsey McKee was in the stands at the football game when something caught her eye. 

"We saw them walking up, probably a handful of them wearing blackface," said McKee.

The Bulldogs were playing the Portland Raiders on Sept. 10.

"We were instantly like oh my god, they can't do that," she said, "especially with everything that's been happening, plus it's just racist."

McKee recorded a video of a student in blackface in hopes of sparking some change or discussion following the game. She said she was concerned that no one seemed to think it was an issue.

"People thought it was funny," said McKee. 

"There were multiple administration personnel monitoring the crowd and they didn't ask them to take the blackface or the durag off," she added, "they just went with it saying it was a 'blackout' game."

Merriam Webster defines the term "blackface" as "dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people."

The school said that was not the intention of their students.

In a statement, Ionia Public Schools superintendent Ben Gurk said: 

"Ionia Public Schools promotes a diverse educational and athletic environment free from any discrimination or harassment. We recently became aware of a report attempting to link our football student section "blackout" correlating to our bulldog color profile, including both black and blue colors, as an offensive act. Administrators investigated and determined that this was an effort by students to support their bulldogs by wearing black eye paint and/or black attire during the September 10, 2021 varsity football game.

We continue to support and educate our students about situations they may become involved in with good intentions, but that may be perceived by others as negative, and have used this situation as another learning opportunity for all of us to grow."

"I hope that they didn't do it on purpose, and that they can definitely use this to learn and maybe educate themselves even more," said McKee.

McKee said that because she is a social worker, she couldn't stand by and not use this as a potential learning moment for others. She said that listening to Black individuals' experiences and feelings is so important.

"I've seen how it affects people's mental health and how it can really tear people down when they're being almost mocked and made fun of just for their skin color and their culture," said McKee. 

"It's our duty as humans to pay attention to those things happening outside of our little bubble of whiteness," she added, "and I hope this is learning for everyone. Learning for the administration, learning for the teachers and learning for the students."

Blackface first came about after the Civil War, as white performers played characters that demeaned Black people. It was allowed to continue for decades, often seen in movies and on television. 

The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University takes a look at this part of American history and more. 

You can learn more about that by clicking here or watching this video.

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