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A professor at the University of Oregon School of Law decided that the best choice for this year's Halloween costume was blackface. The white law prof allegedly smeared his (or her, the professor's gender is unclear at this point) face with black makeup, then headed out to an off-campus Halloween bash attended by students and colleagues.
Did he wow the crowd? Was his costume met with accolades? Was he praised for his wit, bravery, ability to buck P.C. trends? No. The professor is now on paid leave, under official investigation by the university, and facing pressure to resign. No one is surprised.
University of Oregon President Michael Schill sent out a campus-wide email commenting on the incident Tuesday morning. In his letter, which hit every UO student's inbox, not just the law students', President Schill made it clear that the school was not impressed with its employee's costume:
We condemn this action unequivocally as anathema to the University of Oregon's cherished values of racial diversity and inclusion. The use of blackface, even in jest at a Halloween party, is patently offensive and reinforces historically racist stereotypes. It was a stupid act and is in no way defensible.
Twenty-three of UO's law school professors followed up with their own "Dear Colleauge" letter, stating that "If these allegations are true, and you did in fact wear blackface to a Halloween party, you need to resign."
It doesn't matter if it was protected by the First Amendment. Blackface is patently offensive. It is overtly racist. It is wildly inappropriate. It reflects a profound lack of judgment. There is no excuse.
A student petition, also calling for the professor to resign, has gained more than 400 signatures. The university has so far declined to release the prof's name.
So, just what was the professor's costume? The Register-Guard ran a photo allegedly showing the professor in the Halloween getup and it's ... not great.
The professor is wearing a white lab coat, a stethoscope, and what appears to be the cheapest face paint and fro combination he could find at Party City. It's tasteless not just in how offensive blackface is, but how shoddily done the whole thing looks.
If you're going to potentially ruin your reputation and your career for a Halloween costume, you could at least put some effort into it.
A fellow UO professor told the Register-Guard that the costume was meant to be a literal interpretation of "Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine." That's an autobiography by Dr. Damon Tweedy, which recounts his experience with racism in medical school.
Yes, the law professor made a racially offensive costume inspired by a black doctor's book about racism in academia. That requires a particularly strong lack of self-awareness, but we shouldn't be too surprised. You have to be pretty unaware to wear blackface these days.
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