Posh Brooklyn Prep School Slammed for Its Inaction in Blackface Video Controversy, Students Say More Needs to be Done
Blackface Video Rocks Elite Brooklyn Private School, Students Demand Action
Hundreds of students at a posh New York private school ditched a school-wide assembly ahead of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend and staged a 90-minute sit-in in response to a racist video of white students in blackface.
The six-second clip, recorded 2 1/2 years ago, shows two white girls with their faces slathered in dark makeup as they danced around and blubbered like apes, according to the New York Times. A third girl, who doesn’t appear on camera, simply looks on and films her friend’s offensive antics.
The shocking video resurfaced this month, launching Brooklyn’s famous Poly Prep Country Day School into a sea of controversy and turmoil.
“It was hurtful,” senior Jeovanna deShong-Connor, 17, co-president of a students of color group at the school called Umoja who helped to organize Friday’s sit-in, told the New York Daily News. “It was just one more in a string of events that made it very clear that our peers were not welcoming and that the administration did not care.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton, who’s daughters are alumnae of the sprawling Dyker Heights private school, also weighed in on the matter.
“On the King holiday weekend, we are now dealing with blatant racism of a younger generation,” Sharpton said. “They’ve been emboldened.”
A spokeswoman for Poly Prep confirmed that two of the girls involved in the video remain at the academy while a third transferred to a new school last September. All three were in the sixth grade when the video was taken.
“We do not tolerate racism or prejudice in our school or in our communities,” spokeswoman Jennifer Slomack said in a statement. “We took immediate action as soon as we learned of a highly offensive video, taken years ago, being circulated on our campus.”
“It was an egregious violation of our community values and code of conduct,” she added.
Outraged community members said the girls were never disciplined, however.
Students and parents remain highly upset over the incident and have criticized the school’s handling of the matter. Student deShong-Connor told the New York Times she was disappointed, but said the school — where tuition is upward of $50,000 a year — has a culture of racism. This is despite the fact that 39 percent of the school’s roughly 1,083 K-12 students identify as people of color, according to Poly Prep data.
The acclaimed school is best known for its competitive sports programs and its alumni include former center for the New York Knicks, Joakim Noah, and the son of Rock n’ Roll star John Bon Jovi, The New York Times reported.
A parent of one of the girls in the video said the clip was taken during a sleepover when the girls were just 12 years old. A second girl’s parent claimed her daughter was kept quiet by school officials, despite their efforts to let the girl offer an apology.
According to the newspaper, the parents were totally unaware of the video until Jan. 11, when a freshman student posted the clip to a private website for students. Both said they are less than satisfied with the school’s handling of the situation but insist the girls weren’t being racist and had no idea what “blackface” was.
“They were playing with makeup. Typical 12-year-olds,” one parent, who asked to remain anonymous told the newspaper. “They were messing around with the makeup. They mixed it all up and packed it on their faces.”
After realizing their actions were offensive, one of the girls asked her classmates to delete the video, according to the parents.
On Friday, deShong-Connor and fellow organizer Talisha Ward, among others, penned a letter to Poly Prep administrators with their list of demands published in the school’s student newspaper. Their demands include a public apology from the girls featured in the video, the implementation of required racial sensitivity courses and for the administration to acknowledge that the video is just the latest in a series of “racist and intolerable” acts at the school.
“We stand here today humbled by the task before us,” the letter read. “Being granted the opportunity to lead members of the student body during such a tumultuous time is a privilege. While we acknowledge that the current administration has made efforts to address the video, they have not done enough [and] their repeated lack of action has contributed to an unsafe learning environment.”
The students’ protest was followed by a letter to families from Poly Prep Head of School Audrius Barzdukas about the racist video.
“We will not tolerate racism in our school,” Barzdukas wrote. “We will foster a culture where we seek to understand one another and to bridge cultures. “I promise that we will do everything possible to make positive change going forward, and I invite you all to hold us accountable.”
The head of school has promised to meet with Umoja on Wednesday to discuss the next steps going forward.