Student's Halloween costume causes controversy

February 26, 2008 9:20:39 AM PST
When UNC Chapel Hill officials first saw a white college student, photographed in blackface' they told Eyewitness News -- they were a nonissue.

However, when the head of the North Carolina NAACP saw them, he had a very different opinion.

"Symbols are terribly powerful in our culture and you can't dismiss symbols," North Carolina NAACP Rev. William Barber said. "The blackface was done deliberately and shown to audiences across the country as a way to say [African-Americans] are unintelligent, uninformed, unable and it was used very hatefully.

The pictures are from the Facebook page of a white UNC football player, at a Halloween party, with his arms and face painted black -- wearing a Michael Vick jersey -- and wearing a big clock from his neck.

All his classmates had similar reactions to the photos.

"A lot of people would have taken offense to these kinds of pictures," freshman Jason Bost said.

"It seems racist," junior Stephen Norris said.

"I'm pretty sure some of his teammates would be very upset," senior Alecia Brown added.

University officials said that was just a Halloween costume and that none of the player's teammates had raised an issue with them.

Sports Information Director Steve Kirschner later concerned said, "it is a questionable and highly debatable, if it is in good taste or judgment any time a person dresses or portrays themselves as a person of another race."

"It wouldn't be a nonissue if I walked around in a Klan uniform, it wouldn't be a nonissue if someone walked around with a swastika," Barber said. "If we have come to a point where someone suggests nooses, blackface, or hoods really don't mean anything, really don't matter -- then we have lost a sense of consciousness that is dangerous."

He says we may never know if the particular student athlete was deliberately trying to be racist, but he may be lucky no one has taken offense, until now.

"What if you know something had broken out," Barber said. "What if someone had seen this man in blackface and got offended by it and then there was a fight or there was something else?"

UNC Officials say they have spoken to the student, told him to take down the photos and truly believed he was not trying to be racist.

"The only place we should really be exhibiting blackface and nooses is maybe in some museum where people can go to see what was and what we should never want to go back to," Barber added.

When asked for reaction to Reverend Barber's comments, UNC Chancellor James Moeser declined to comment.

But an associate vice chancellor told Eyewitness News "the university doesn't condone what the student did, nor did we dismiss it. When we became aware of it, an athletics official with the football team talked with the student about the error in his judgment. The official made it clear that the costume was inappropriate and counseled the student about why it was inappropriate."

The photos are no longer on the Web site.


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