Blackface Panel in Hawken Timeline

October 23, 2019

Every place has a past, and that includes Hawken School. A troubling part of Hawken’s past became known when a new timeline of Hawken’s 104 year history was put up inside the school soon after spring break of last year. Administrators had not noticed that a Hawken student was in blackface in one of the pictures of the “Hawken Circus,” and this only came to light when a student noticed the racially charged image on display. The timeline was immediately covered up and the picture taken down, and an apology letter was soon sent by Mr. Looney. This is not the end of the story though, as the important question of how this image ended up on the timeline in the first place was raised. This image was used in many promotional displays for Hawken in the past, including in displays at the Lower School for years, yet nobody noticed. According to Mr. Faturoti, to prevent this from happening in the future, he, Ms. Samson, and other faculty will be looking through each image closely before anything is utilized in any way for advertisement. This is a simple measure to prevent incidents like this from happening again, but Hawken is trying to do more than just sweep this issue under the rug.

When it comes to offensive racial images, blackface has become one of the most recognizable in American culture. In the 1800s, plays, and later films, utilized black face paint on white actors in order to depict black characters without actually hiring black actors. As this became more prevalent in showbusiness, minstrel shows were born. Minstrel shows were skits meant to portray stereotypes of African Americans for comedic effect, and further cemented the concept and execution of blackface as racist. Depicting any race other than your own by coloring your face in a certain way is offensive, but one of the most prominent symbols of the underlying racism still present in America is the use of blackface for any purpose.

 

Hawken isn’t perfect, but to continue to strive towards perfection, it must admit it’s faults. Mr. Faturoti says that soon, administrators will be going through the archives and possibly finding a way to display our past without glorifying it. He believes that hiding our past is not the path to a more healthy and open community. Rather, it can spark meaningful discussion on complicated issues. Mr. Faturoti says that him and Mr. Greenfield are working together to tell the stories of Hawken that aren’t often mentioned. Charlise Lyles ’77 wrote her memoir, Do I Dare Disturb the Universe in order to share her story as one of the first female students to attend Hawken, a student of color, and a low-income student. Her story, and others, are the kind of things that should be exemplified as well.

 

Hawken is also trying to use this as an opportunity to become a more inclusive community. According to Mr. Faturoti, there are plans to have community wide conversations so that people who feel marginalized by this incident, and others they may have experienced, can express their opinions to the rest of the community. These conversations also aim to further raise awareness to important issues relating to diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. He is leading the charge with the new Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice (DEIJ) council, while also advising student run organizations efforts, such as affinity groups. He also thinks that it is important to change the way the community thinks about these conversations, as he notes, “a lot of people freeze when conversations about identity come up. They are afraid to say the wrong thing so instead they say nothing.” The point of all of these conversations and initiatives is to “make more seats” according to Mr. Faturoti, as he believes “everyone can have a seat at the table.” The issue of race is part of our past, just as it is a continuing issue within our world. Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, was recently found to have purposefully painted his face with black ink multiple times in the past. This shows that blackface is not just a Hawken issue, it pertains to the greater world. How Hawken proceeds is not just about what one school does; it has a greater context in a world with everyday injustices. How Hawken responds is representative of the model they hope to demonstrate for the students, and are actively striving toward. 

 

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