ASU Black and African Coalition, student government fight blackface

Sun Devil Stadium gets set for a kickoff as 70,236 spectators filled the bleachers in the Sept. 9, 2011 “Black Out” game against Missouri. (Photo by Beth Easterbrook) Sun Devil Stadium gets set for a kickoff as 70,236 spectators filled the bleachers in the Sept. 9, 2011 “Black Out” game against Missouri. The Sept. 9 football game against Missouri was the first blackout game in ASU history. (Photo by Beth Easterbrook)

A student wearing blackface to a recent football game has outraged members of the Black and African Coalition, and they are helping write a bill to be presented to Tempe Undergraduate Student Government that will prevent insensitive incidents like these from happening in the future.

Several students were photographed at the blackout football game against UCLA wearing blackface and the photo was posted on news organizations' websites as a sign of school spirit.

However, BAC President Kyle Denman said the photo shows insensitivity and ignorance to the diverse student population on campus.

"The historical context of blackface is that it is demeaning to the African-American culture," Denman said. "It doesn't show school spirit; it represents cultural insensitivity at the end of the day."

The bill will help bring awareness to racial issues at ASU events and the insensitivity that is taking place on campus, Denman said.

"I hope it brings awareness to it not showing school spirit and it is actually being culturally insensitive to people who have dealt with this and are trying to progress as a culture and as human beings," he said. "It puts us back in that stereotypical box we have been placed in for so many years, saying this is who we are ... at the end of the day, in a sense, that is how they still see us if that is how they are still dressing."

Denman said he is also upset with the administration for allowing events like this and others in the past to take place with little consequences.

"Last year, the TKE party happened where people were drinking out of watermelon cups and showing a stereotypical view of African Americans and then this happens," he said. "It almost seems like this is what the school promotes."

BAC is looking for consequences to happen when racial insensitivity takes place at ASU events.

"I think the immediate consequences should be not allowing them into the event and then make them attend these events like caucuses or classroom workshops where they are made aware of why it is culturally insensitive to students who are Native American or African American or whatever race it is that they identify with or sex or whatever, because it goes either way," Denman said.

Tempe USG Senator Isabelle Murray, who is writing the bill, said she has heard people speaking about the blackface not really being an issue.

"I know some people who have said it's not really blackface, he just painted his face black but if you take that picture out of context, how does that reflect on ASU?" she said.

Racial insensitivity reflects negatively on the University as a whole and students shouldn't do things that can be perceived as racist, Murray said.

"It reflects poorly on ASU, so that is not showing school spirit," she said. "You can show school spirit in ways that are beneficial to ASU and not something that looks racist and hurt ASU in the long run. That's just insensitive and selfish."

Being a student at a University with such a large and diverse population calls for people to understand other cultures and things that may be insensitive to different groups, Murray said.

"I feel like if you are in college, then you should know better," she said. "I mean, what kind of education are you getting if you don't understand the historical context?"

BAC Vice President Chinenye Okudoh said this bill is very necessary to combat ignorance.

"I hope that people will be more aware of what they do and some people are just ignorant and don't realize that they are hurting someone," she said. "I fell like this is something ASU needs to take a stand on."

The bill will be presented during the Oct. 21 Tempe USG meeting and has been in development for a while.

"It takes a lot of time to develop something like this because the issue is so broad," Denman said.

Setting standards for being diverse as a university and showing support for different cultures as an administration should be a priority, Denman said.

"If you want to promote diversity then they should walk around campus and get to know people of different cultures and different backgrounds and that is showing support, that is being aware," he said. "If promoting diversity is important, but you allow someone to come onto campus in black face, and no repercussions and no awareness of that makes people feel it's pretty insensitive."

More work will be done in the coming weeks to include as many cultural groups as possible and the awareness of these issues need to be addressed as soon as possible, Denman said.

"Unless you're creating some type of awareness then there is nothing," he said. "We still have very far to go."


Reach the reporter at or follow on Twitter @joey_hancock

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misstated the date of the Tempe USG meeting during which the bill will be presented. The current version has been updated.

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