School’s blackface episodes distressing

Southland Boys' High School pupils wear blackface at their sports day in 2020, one of several...
Southland Boys' High School pupils wear blackface at their sports day in 2020, one of several occasions when Pearce House members appeared to use indigenous cultures as costume. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/SOUTHLAND BOYS' HIGH SCHOOL
An Invercargill woman is calling for Southland Boys’ High School to change one of its house colours after pupils were seen dressed in blackface and afro wigs at their sports day.

"I was pulling into a park when I saw one of them and thought, ‘Oh my gosh’.

"When I got out of the car, I saw about 20 of them painted black, some wearing those black clown wigs that look like afros," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

SBHS held its annual sports day event on Thursday, where hundreds of pupils dressed up in their house colours, including Pearce House, which is represented by the colour black.

SBHS board of trustees chair Jan Ormsby yesterday apologised on behalf of the school and said it had a "zero tolerance for racism".

"We sincerely apologise for the harm or offence that has been caused by any students wearing blackfaces on sports day," Ms Ormsby said.

"It is not appropriate, and we consider it to be offensive."

The woman who complained wondered if the pupils understood the significance of their costume choice and how culturally insensitive it was.

"It makes you think about what they’re teaching them, our country’s history?"

She argued while pupils from other house groups also wore body paint, it was not the same as impersonating people of colour.

"There’s a loaded history that comes with dressing like that [in blackface]."

When she visited the school’s website yesterday, she was "pretty shocked" to find an image from a previous sports day, understood to be from about eight years ago.

Some were wearing flax skirts, while others held sticks and had leopard-print material wrapped around them.

Ms Ormsby said pupils painted their bodies and faces at every sports day.

However, it was 2021, and while the school had a "traditional heart", it was committed to adapting to "the modern world".

The school planned to work with its wider community on appropriate ways to "build the culture" of its houses and have discussions with its young men about racism.

Pupils involved in any "inappropriate behaviour" would be reprimanded and educated to understand the effects of their actions.
 

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