A teacher at Chestnut Grove Elementary School has come under intense public scrutiny for using blackface as part of his Halloween costume.
The fifth grade teacher, Heath Morrow, wore blackface as part of his Kanye West costume; his wife joined him dressed as Kim Kardashian West. The couple posted a picture of their costume on social media and it has since garnered international attention.
“When deciding to dress up for a Halloween party, my wife and I made a decision based on celebrities and the political climate today,” Morrow wrote in an apology letter. “I do not want this to reflect on my school or school system based on my poor decision that I made. Again I apologize and this will not happen again.”
I know what you’re thinking: how is blackface still a thing? The practice became common in the 19th century and allowed white performers to depict stereotypical black characters since black performers were forbidden onstage. The caricatures usually accompanied blackface with exaggerated large, red lips and bulgy eyes; the practice eventually translated to racist cartoons and films as well. In the 1950s, the NAACP launched a campaign to put an end to the use of blackface in theatrical performing, drawing attention to its blatantly racist practice historically.
Decatur City Schools Superintendent Dr. Ed Nichols expressed his disappointment in Morrow, insisting that as an educator, he should have known blackface would be offensive to African-Americans.
“If he’s doing minstrel, he should have enough sense to know the roots of it. How it started,” Nichols said. “It started as a derogatory act to show black people in a buffoonery and ignorant light. Even though that’s not what he meant, that is the core root of the act.”
The teacher apologized for his error in judgement and insists he had not meant any harm by using the theatrical makeup.
“My intentions were not malicious or directed toward any certain group of people,” Morrow wrote. “I would also like to say that everyone who knows my character and knows my heart, knows that I have never seen color in my life. I wasn’t raised or taught that way and do not raise my children that way. I see people for who they are, and my wife and I go out of our way to help anyone we can in my profession as an educator.”
Nichols would not comment on whether the school system was taking any disciplinary against the teacher; he did confirm that the district had launched an investigation.
“As a school district, we are looking into this and seeking advice from our legal counsel,” Nichols said. “And I want to make sure all the citizens of our community know that we do not condone this action or any action that would bring any offense to a person based on their race, their religion, or any other matter.”
The Decatur City Board of Education held a meeting Monday morning to discuss the situation. Nichols did announce that he did not want Morrow to lose his job, but rather to use the incident to educate his students about blackface. The superintendent also admitted he planned to meet with community leaders.
“I do plan to meet with leaders in the community to discuss this issue, take their advice and their counsel, and what we can do as a school district for our staff and our students to do a better job of being sensitive to those around us and their feelings,” Nichols said.