NAACP blasts Shelton’s blackface pic response, plans rally

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

Exterior, Shelton Intermediate School, in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 9, 2016.

The girls responsible for a photo on Snapchat of a white student in blackface have apologized — and their written apologies were displayed during a special assembly Friday, Sept. 13, at Shelton Intermediate School.

Superintendent of Schools Chris Clouet said the assembly — which gathered the entire school population and featured a “well-crafted” PowerPoint presentation, during which a detailed history and meaning of blackface in the African American community was shown — was a “teachable moment.” Clouet said, while some know the students involved, others do not, so the girls were not identified during the assembly.

But Valley NAACP President Greg Johnson, Sr., said the school’s reaction was inadequate and announced that he is organizing a Pack the Shelton Board of Education Rally & Meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the Shelton Board of Education offices, 382 Long Hill Avenue.

The rally is scheduled for 6 p.m., prior to the regular Board of Education meeting at 7 p.m. The rally is sponsored by the Ansonia and Valley NAACP branch as well as the Connecticut State Conference NAACP Youth & College Division.

Johnson said the Valley NAACP chapter tempered its response after the release of the photo on Shapchat early last week, in hopes of giving the community leaders the “benefit of the doubt.

“The result ... nothing,” said Johnson in a statement released Tuesday, Sept. 17. “So I have to take the lack of action as complicity in the act of the white Shelton (Intermediate School) student who felt comfortable enough to put on blackface and go on social media with the caption ‘there’s a new (racial slur) in town.’ This type of behavior must be acceptable in Shelton since everyone that I have spoken with has attempted to minimize this act.”

Clouet said he respects people’s right to gather and express their views but stands by the decision to hold the in-school assembly for students and teachers only.

“I believe it was well designed to have the maximum impact on the students in an age-appropriate way,” said Clouet, adding that the assembly involved all staff taking their roles as educators seriously “by teaching the students the history of blackface in America. It was enlightening for them, and that is exactly what we, as educators, are supposed to be doing.”

This assembly was also not on a one-time event, according to Clouet, adding that administrators hope to create a team of high school and middle school students that would “speak with elementary school students about bias and stereotyping and how to avoid those issues in their growth.”

Matt McGee, Shelton High senior and Democrat Board of Aldermen candidate in the Third Ward, called the blackface photo “unacceptable” and urged, “even more important than punishment, is harm reduction through education, so photos like the one currently under scrutiny don't happen again, and so Shelton works towards it's goal of being a more welcoming and loving community.”

McGee said he has spoken with Clouet about creating “a student-led program which educates younger, elementary aged children about our differences, why they should be celebrated and not hated/feared, and why any form of bias/discrimination is unfair and therefore unacceptable.

“I hope to work with him, school administrators, the NAACP, and any other concerned citizens to make this program a reality,” added McGee.

Clouet said on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the district was investigating the circumstances surrounding this photo, which showed a white student wearing a black substance on her face, appearing to be some kind of face paint or beauty mask. In the photo she is seen sticking out her tongue and holding up both middle fingers. Reports indicate the photo was captioned: “New (racial slur) in town.”

“We will be taking this situation very seriously,” Clouet said when news of the photo broke. “These are complex issues, and before we react, we need to talk to ... those who created the photo and all those who were impacted by the photo.”

The assembly, led by Principal Dina Marks, came one day after Johnson called the photo a hate crime and demanded “swift and meaningful” punishment.

“The apology was a first-person by each girl talking about their intentions and how sorry they were about causing others such distress,” said Clouet, adding that the presentation also featured a statement by a fellow African American student who described how this photo adversely affected her. None of the students were identified during the presentation.

“There was also a discussion about social media,” said Clouet. “Students were told again that once you send, you cannot unsend.”

Near the end of the school day on Friday, Sept. 13, Clouet said students gathered in their respective homerooms and reflected on what they had heard, which he hopes will be “the beginning of an ongoing process in which we will continue to work with students to learn to better respect each other.”

But Johnson said the students’ act demonstrates “hate and a complete lack of respect for an entire race of people, and you all are OK with this? Are the black and brown children in your school system not worthy of being protected and defended?

“This hate, if not addressed with a stiff penalty will only get worse and it will spread and happen more often because none of the people charged with guiding these young people seem to be taking this serious. This is beyond serious and we are demanding this student be reprimanded immediately,” added Johnson.