Kids in Blackface Controversy in Armstrong County

Content Note: racism, racial justice, white complicity


Around Halloween, two 12-year-old girls allegedly decided to dress up in blackface for Halloween. They were spotted and photographed at a local Dunkin Donuts. The ensuing thread on Facebook, seemingly including the girls’ family members, is filled with threats and more racism and also resistance.

While I was considering blogging about this because of the young age of the girls and the threats they are already receiving, a friend asked me to consider how I would report on this if it was a young person in my family or friends.  And that led me to think about what would happen if my Black nephews, ages 7 and 12, made a comparable ‘bad decision’. Or how their everyday decisions bout how they move through the world as Black male children puts them in harm’s way from society, law enforcement, the education system, and their own extended family. Their existence as Black males is the biggest threat to their welfare, not the decisions they actually make as children.

These are experiences and worries I don’t hold in my heart for our two white niblings, ages 11 and 13.

And I think about a tweet from State Representative Summer Lee about vandalism in a local park yesterday:

I do not condone adults threatening 12-year-old kids. It is criminal behavior and also completely useless. However, if the parents were sincere about holding their kids accountable, they would remove all of their contributions to the thread and have Facebook remove the photo. So the story is much bigger than two 12-year-old girls making a stupid life choice based on ignorance, prejudice, and a lack of parental supervision. But that is part of the story.

We lose the point Summer Lee made and the point we need to remember if we focus in on a “bad parenting/bad life choice” focus. This post has drawn 500+ comments. That dialogue is what you need to consider after you look at the image. There are people who think this is fine. There are people who rationalize and defend this racism. And there are people resisting as well.

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My nephews should be able to go into a Dunkin Donuts in Kittanning, Armstrong County, Pennsylvania and not have to deal with this. Their identities are not fodder for violence  already fodder for too much violence in our society.

Armstrong County is also home to Worthington Borough and the racist electronic billboards. That’s important context, but please don’t sink into the ‘us/them’ rhetoric of how the awful racists live in the rural parts of Pennsylvania while liberal bastions like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia remain above the fray. Summer’s tweet should remind us to avoid that pitfall and focus on the reality that anti-Blackness and racism are part of white culture, urban and rural and everywhere in between.

Here’s the snap of the girls in the Dunkin Donuts. What are we going to do about this? How are we confronting this racism?

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Kittaning Girls Blackface Halloween
Photo via Facebook


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