A high school track coach in Indiana who failed to see what’s so offensive about dressing in blackface could soon be out of a job after posting a photo of himself dressed as reggae star Bob Marley.
Richard Gist, who coaches both track and football at Brown County High School in the tiny town of Nashville, Ind., made headlines after sharing the racist blackface photo in response to a Facebook post explaining why white people should NOT partake in the offensive getup, The Brown County Democrat reported.
“Dear fellow white people, blackface is always bad, ALWAYS,” the post read. “If you didn’t know, now you do. Sincerely, A white guy shaking his damn head.”
The incident comes on the heels of controversy surrounding Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, who’s facing pressure to resign after an old yearbook photo of the Republican congressman dressed in blackface recently surfaced. Northam, 59, initially apologized for the photo, but then denied it was him.
Gist took a slightly different approach by posting a photo of himself posing as the Jamaican reggae star, his face painted black, on Jan. 23 with the caption, “what’s wrong with it..?” A fellow Facebook user responded, “I’m a Black man and I am telling you that is offensive.”
Gist, who’s been employed at the high school since February 2018, said that wasn’t a good enough reason and asked the man to explain why the practice was offensive. That’s when someone else challenged the coach to upload the photo as his Facebook profile pic.
“If you think that it’s okay then why don’t you use it as your profile picture for a while?” they wrote. “I’m sure you will get the answer to the question you seek. It is racist and it’s offensive to most people of African origin.”
Gist accepted the challenge, and backlash was swift. The coach completely changed his tune last week when Brown Country School’s superintendent Laura Hammack caught wind of the racist photo after local activist Vauhxx Booker sent her a screenshot of it.
“In approximately 2008 or 2007, or thereabouts, on Halloween I dressed up as Bob Marley, a character that I admire who spreads love, peace, and hope,” he said in an apology to Fox 59, adding he believed the photo was taken out of context. “I dressed up as this person out of respect for him and what he believes and not in the intent of offending anybody or insinuating that another race is superior to any other.”
Despite his “redemption song,” Hammack said the district is considering Gist’s termination.
“It was a sincere disconnect and I’m so sorry that Brown County has been aligned with a post that was of this nature, and I just want the community to know that Brown County is a very, very special place and that one post doesn’t speak to who we are as a community,” she told the station.
On Jan. 31, the school’s administration office held a special, closed-door meeting of the Brown County Schools Board of Trustees to discuss “information concerning an individual’s alleged misconduct,” the Brown County Democrat reported. The school board is in charge of all staff changes.
The backlash hasn’t silenced Gist’s supporters, however. One of the coach’s former students launched an online petition asking that Gist be allowed to keep his job. So far, the document has collected over 2,000 signatures.
“Coach Richard Gist is a fun, hardworking and dedicated member of our coaching and teaching staff at BCHS,” the petition reads. “He’s an upstanding member of the community and is caring to all people. He does not deserve the treatment he is receiving for showing his support in someone he is inspired by.”
Gist has since removed the photo from his Facebook page, where he offered a second apology. The apology post has also been removed.
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