Student in blackface spouting a racial slur roils Fresno high school
The video posted on Facebook is deeply jarring: a 14-year-old white girl in full blackface, laughing, mugging for the camera in what appears to be a private home and declaring, “Who said I can’t say [the N-word]?”
Another video of the same girl is also making the rounds on social media; in this one, she is surrounded by friends, again spouting the most offensive racial epithet in the English language, but this time doing so on the campus of Bullard High School in Fresno, where she is a cheerleader.
The videos began circulating via Snapchat in the middle of the week, and on Friday, a community activist posted the blackface snippet on her Facebook page, eliciting hundreds of angry comments.
The offensive images have roiled Bullard, which is in the wealthiest neighborhood in an otherwise impoverished school district, and underscored the racial tensions in California’s fifth most populous city. Just days earlier, at a Memorial Day baseball game, the minor league Fresno Grizzlies showed a video that suggested Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) is one of America’s “enemies of freedom.”
Ocasio-Cortez’s image appeared in the video just after the likeness of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. In recent days, Tecate and Dos Equis beers, both owned by Heineken International, dropped their sponsorship of the Grizzlies. The Fresno Bee reported that raisin company Sun-Maid also terminated its sponsorship.
“Even though we’re in California, we’re a very old-time, conservative town, and this racist behavior is very embedded in our community,” said Stacy Williams, the community organizer who posted the video on Facebook. “There’s a deep-rooted history of white people using their power over people of color in our city with little to no accountability.”
A teacher in the Fresno Unified School District sent Williams the video on Thursday night. Williams, a financial advisor who graduated from Bullard in 1994, said she “did due diligence” before she posted the video on her Facebook page, where she later commented that “When our schools create a campus culture of hate & racism, & act in complicit silence, we as a community must protect our children.”
Others piled on: “This is disgusting why has she not been kicked out or punished,” posted Xzaviera Ballenger-Jahsi. “Highly unlikely that this is an isolated incident,” posted LaKishia McCreary White. Noted Ashley Gloughie: “I have this theory that each generation coming into high school as freshmen are getting worse and worse as far as it goes for behavior.”
But not everyone agreed. Candace Marie Fairly, who identified herself as “a black woman and mother,” noted in response that the girl’s behavior was “completely WRONG & DISGUSTING.” But she quickly added that “I don’t feel she should be exploited at such a young age and her future be ruined for a stupid choice like this because she may be able to turn her life around.”
The incident was first reported Saturday in the Fresno Bee.
Fresno schools Supt. Bob Nelson described the girl as a 14-year-old Bullard student. He declined to release her name or punishment because “she’s a minor.”
“It’s very serious,” Nelson said Saturday. “We need to hold her accountable for her actions and the implications thereof. … I don’t want to diminish the significance of the pain and anguish that this causes in others. That being said, I want to do more than just see people attack one another on social media. It doesn’t help us do the very real work we need to do.”
Nelson described his school district as “the most impoverished in California … 89.9% of students receive free or reduced-price lunch. Race and economics are on the forefront of everyone’s mind.” The city, he said, has a history of redlining that has segregated Fresno’s neighborhoods. Across the district, Nelson said, if a student is black, male and enrolled in special-education classes, he is three times more likely to be expelled or suspended. After surveying 135 special-education teachers, the district instituted “cultural responsiveness training at leadership level” in early spring.
But it has yet to speak publicly about the racist video. A meeting with the student body is in the works but has not been scheduled. The last week of school begins Monday.
Nelson also posted a lengthy response to criticism about the incident on his personal Facebook page.
“Yes, a young teenager made an incredibly poor decision and posted a deeply offensive video on social media,” he wrote, “but nothing productive comes from meeting that ignorance and racial insensitivity with hate, and that is exactly what has occurred in the resulting outrage expressed. As adults, and as a city, we have to do better.”
By Saturday afternoon, the response on his Facebook page was mixed. Community activists, such as Williams and JePahl White, were not appeased.
“The bias that the Fresno Unified School District has shown against black boys and people of color, this is historic,” said White, who attended Bullard High School along with his five siblings and describes himself as a social equity advocate. “This is not new.”
The blackface video “is a huge opportunity for Fresno Unified to get in front of this and to create programs and training around implicit bias, racial bias. But I’m not holding my breath. This is Fresno.”
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.