Sean King, an eight-year-old second grader at Meridian Ranch Elementary School in Colorado Springs was pulled out of class by the principal for painting his face black when he dressed up as Martin Luther King, Jr. for wax museum day. The students were instructed to dress up as a historical figure. Sean, according to his mother, Michelle King-Roca, was excited: “He said, ‘Mom, I want to wear a black suit because that’s what he wore, a black tie, a white shirt and also I want to do my face black and wear a mustache.”
Sean’s parents accompanied their child to school, as did other parents, and were stunned by the turn of events: “Right before it was time to come in (to the classroom), the principal came up and stated he (Sean) was to take the face mask off. There was a person in the faculty that had an issue with it,” said King-Roca. She and her husband ignored the principal’s request to take Sean’s make-up off and remained in the classroom waiting for Sean’s presentation. But when the principal returned to the classroom, she and her husband were asked to come to the principal’s office.
“I was upset. I started crying,” said King-Roca.
A spokeswoman for the school, Stephanie Meredith, said it wasn’t just a staff member who took offensive to Sean’s face paint: “When other students are offended by something, it is the principal’s role that the educational environment is safe for all students.” She admitted that there were no guidelines given for the class project, but that the school’s dress policy was against wearing face paint.
Sean was confused by the principal’s request that he wash his face: “They thought it was inappropriate and it will be disrespectful to black people and I say it’s not. I like black people. It’s just a costume and I don’t want to insult anybody.”
Of course, the NAACP had to make its own sentiments heard; Rosemary Harris Lytle, the president of the Colorado Springs branch, said the school acted properly:
“When I saw the story about the young scholar who decided he would portray Martin Luther King for a class project, I was so proud of him. Unfortunately, by having blackface as part of his presentation, it ended up harkening back to a really tragic time in the life of this country, a time when blackface was used by entertainers primarily to demean African-Americans, and in a way I know this young man couldn’t have intended to do … To go back to the history of minstrels and of blackface and of the sad time when people who were geniuses were portrayed as nothing more than figures of comedy.”
It’s ironic the NAACP is tacitly indicting an eight-year-old of racism for wanting to look like a great black American hero as much as possible.