CU Black Outs: If white people paint their faces black at games, is that racist?

Categories: News, Sports

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A popular way for colleges to hype big games is to ask fans to dress in one of the school's colors -- and the most passionate attendees often paint their face and body that color, too. But when one of those colors is black, are white supporters who take brush to skin engaging in a racist act? That's a question being raised at (naturally) the University of Colorado in regard to the concept of "Black Outs."

The Boulder Daily Camera reports that the Boulder Faculty Assembly's diversity committee plans to address this issue at a meeting next month, with a draft resolution calling on "the campus community to 'vigorously address' the unacceptable behavior."

Yet students who painted themselves black at football games tell the Camera they were merely trying to display school spirit by donning one of the school's official colors (the other is gold), not behave in a racially insensitive way.

In the past, Black Outs haven't only been promoted by students -- and neither have they eschewed paint. In advance of a 2008 black-out game versus West Virginia, the CU Book Store's Facebook page posted the following:

Nothing shows your enthusiasm for the big game like a face painting! The CU Book Store will paint your face for free for the Blackout game from 3:30 to 6:30.

It's important to note that the face painting involved black designs, as seen in the photo from the Facebook posting above, as opposed to slathering a person's entire mug in black.

More recently, an indication that the university is growing more cautious about Black Outs popped up on this Facebook event page relating to the CU men's basketball team contest versus Kansas -- which was declared an unofficial Black Out contest. A post script to the item reads:

We were able to get the department behind the wearing black initiative for this game (the department can't call it a "Blackout" but we can say "wear black" in our publications...we're still calling it a blackout among the students!).

CU's smart to tread lightly in this area, and not just because of the toxic cultural history of black-face minstrelsy in this country. Like it or not, the university has a reputation for being lily white in comparison with many major colleges around the country, and the phenomenon of white kids in black face may make it harder for the likes of CU football coach Jon Embree to recruit young African-Americans to play on his team. Embree's first National Letter of Intent Day scorecard shows that he's quite skilled in this regard -- and given that he, too, is African-American, the circulation of photos in which Caucasians are painted black might be seen as sending a mixed message to any parent who's seen clips of Al Jolson singing about his mammy in The Jazz Singer.

So does that mean the end of Black Outs at CU? Too soon to tell -- but don't be surprised if there are more Gold Outs in the future.

More from our Sports archive: "Jon Embree, new CU Buffs head coach, pledges to bring the swagger back at press conference."

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15 comments
Bill, CU M.A. 1965
Bill, CU M.A. 1965

Since Westword is targeted to a young audience, I would be willing to bet that everybody in this thread who thinks this issue is "idiotic" is under age 50. Too young to remember when white people in small-town America painted their faces black for "minstrel shows" that depicted blacks as slow-witted Amos'n'Andy menials. Too young to remember the "White Trade Only" signs that flourished on small-town Colorado main streets, even in Boulder County. Too young to remember separate drinking fountains, separate and terribly unequal schools. Too young to remember that "states' rights" was a code-word for segregation, and that "vouchers" began as a Southern white response to the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that integrated public schools. Too young to remember that black children were only allowed in public swimming pools on the day before the pool was to be drained and cleaned -- a day which today is reserved for swimming dogs. The kiddies who write in this thread and dismiss this issue as idiotic or the now-common right-wing conversation-stopper "politically correct" simply reflect how poorly American students are being educated about what life was like in America even just a few generations ago for people who didn't walk in your wingtips. What's next, CU fans? Bones in your noses? Watermelons with the CU logo? Waving Official Buffs Shoe-Shine Rags? Black is NOT an official CU school color. Your colors are Silver and Gold. Wearing blackface simply shows the world that you're historically illiterate -- not only about 20th-century American life but about your own school as well.

Dedicated_Dad
Dedicated_Dad

I should have clarified my "Grow UP." comment...

The sort of moronity on display here is the same sickness that gets people fired for using words like "niggardly" (synonym for miserly) or "black hole" (a space object whose gravity is so strong that even light cannot escape).

The past is gone, and the Officially Sanctioned Victim Groups and the Perpetually Aggrieved really need to -- as I said -- GROW. UP.

Smyser
Smyser

This is ridiculous. It's a blackout game, you wear all black and paint your body black, it's what football fans do all over the country with the colors of their own team in order to show solidarity and intimidation. It sounds like there was no real news to write about today.

Moonlightgraham
Moonlightgraham

This is quite possibly the most stupid thing I have read in the past year, maybe longer. Michael Roberts can't possibly be this bored. Do some real journalism dude. This should have been about the 119,548th story on your list. The editor who thought this was a good idea is a dolt.

Joe
Joe

How silly. CU Boulder: Working on the biggest and toughest problems facing society.

Fuck Your FAce Paint
Fuck Your FAce Paint

I think it ignores the fact that slavery existed for a long-ass time and subsequently established a tradition of racism in this country, exemplified by blackface. Maybe not it snow-white Colorado, but pretending you don't think the two are connected is ridiculous. How many drunk undergrads are going to make N-word jokes in the parking lot while they put on their "team makeup?" go fuck yourselves.

Noodlekicker
Noodlekicker

Don't you think that assuming "drunk undergrads" are white and racist is also kind of racist?

Anon
Anon

I think "Fuck Your FAce Paint" is playing the odds in Boulder, Colo.

comet67
comet67

This is a joke right? But coming from my sometimes whacky alma mater, I suppose it could be true.

Michael Roberts
Michael Roberts

Not a joke, Comet67. But loved your post. We're going to make it an upcoming Comment of the Day. Thanks for reading.

Beavis
Beavis

The better solution would be for CU to change their team colors.

Eric
Eric

This is obnoxious. It is a show of school spirit. No race issues are involved. People are so concerned with being PC that they are taking the fun out of things that are not remotely related. I had never thought of it that way (I am a former CU student) until I read this article.

CJ Powell
CJ Powell

I agree that CU is smart to tread lightly here, and I'm glad you're broaching the subject, Michael. The issue is particularly sensitive for CU because of the lack of diversity, which is actually magnified when the entire student body wears the same color. As an alum, it's pretty embarrassing to turn on the game and see thousands of students donning all black, and yet the crowd still looks predominantly white.

What's even more curious about these "blackouts" is that the official school colors are gold and silver - not gold and black. Shouldn't the university be pushing a "gold rush" or something that is a little more tied to school spirit?

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