Don’t laugh please, we’re black(face)!

Blackface not funny

Administrators in the Waverly Central School District have been fielding complaints all weekend after students involved in a Friday pep rally staged a skit critics say was racist and made light of domestic violence.

The issue is getting some national attention after a Waverly High School graduate posted a story on the CNN iReport website early Monday.

Three white students wearing blackface put on the skit, according to the post by 2006 graduate Matt Dishler, with two of the students representing singer Rihanna and her former boyfriend, entertainer Chris Brown, who were involved in a highly publicized domestic violence case in 2009.

A photo posted with the story shows one male restraining another male, with a student portraying Rihanna cowering on the floor. Students and others sitting on the bleachers in the background appear to be smiling and laughing as they watch the skit.

Dishler said he didn’t attend the rally, but heard about it from friends. After confirming the information, he decided to post an opinion piece.

“I can testify there’s not a lot of racial diversity in that school whatsoever. We’re not really exposed to that at that school,” Dishler said. “I felt like something should have been done about this. I don’t believe the kids had any vicious intentions, but the administrators should have said that’s not exactly OK.”

Waverly Superintendent Joseph Yelich said he was not aware that the students were planning to do the skit, but he has received plenty of complaints since then.

“The Waverly School District is committed to creating a positive atmosphere through all activities,” Yelich said. “I’ll be working with building administration, staff and students to develop future activities consistent with that commitment.

“There is a set of concerns that a number of individuals have had, and we want to address those concerns,” Yelich said. “I want to be sure administration and staff and students know what our expectations are.”

Yelich did not indicate what if any specific actions would result from Friday’s pep rally.

A New Hope Center, an Owego-based agency that assists victims of domestic and sexual violence, hate crimes, rape and other abuse, is already working with the Waverly School District on bullying issues, according to Assistant Director Francis J. Bialy.

Bialy wasn’t aware of Friday’s pep rally, but he said, in general, it’s disturbing to try to find humor in grave issues such as domestic violence.

“If it’s intended to be humorous or putting down people, it further perpetuates permission to engage in such behavior,” Bialy said.

“When you look at issues with race, the same thing holds true. If people act in racist ways or support racist behavior, they tell other people it’s OK to act racist.

“I hesitate to judge the intent of something,” Bialy said.

“There’s also a dynamic that well-intentioned actions are done without a full sense of understanding that also end up being damaging as well. I think it should be looked at.”

Dishler said he is still proud of his former high school and didn’t want to be too critical.

“I believe they will take steps to cure it. I just think sometimes things need to be brought to light,” Dishler said.

“(Domestic violence) is nothing to joke about. I wanted people to know this mistake was made and can we please rectify it so it doesn’t happen again.”  –