An Oregon teen says she’s facing death threats and might have to change schools over what was supposed to be an innocent group photo.
Now, freshman Jasmine Bates is working to clear her name after appearing in a now-viral photo showing a group of white kids with their faces covered in black paint and a blatantly racist caption that read “#n—–r gang.”
Bates insists she had no idea the person who posted it would use the slur.
“In my opinion the picture was innocent until somebody made it wrong,” she told local station KEZI of the Oct. 26 incident, adding: “I did not even know that the picture was posted until Sunday morning.”
Bates, who attends Lebanon High School, saids it all started when she and several other students volunteered to scare guests at a haunted barn as part of an annual fundraiser for the school’s Future Farmers of America chapter. She said she showed up Saturday excited and ready to give folks a spook.
“I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to scare people!’ Bates said, explaining her job was basically to hide; one person hid behind the wall and like jumped out and scared people.”
The teen said an adult chaperone instructed herself and other students to pull their hair back, put their hoods up and paint their faces black so as to camouflage themselves. They all agreed, and Bates said one student wanted to capture the moment in a photo.
“We took a picture, this group picture,” she told the outlet. “After everyone walked away, the girl who had took the picture posted the picture with the caption ‘hashtag whatever,’ and the rest of us weren’t really aware of what she said.”
Bates would wake up the next day to a torrent of backlash from people who had seen the photo online, linking her to the racist image and caption.
“People were blowing up my phone [saying] ‘you’re disgusting’, ‘You’re nasty,’ ” she added. “There were people who sent death threats and lots and lots of insults.”
By Monday, the outrage had spread to Lebanon High, where students and parents condemned the hateful image.
Bates’ mother, Laura Lewis, said fallout over the incident has left her daughter shaken and afraid to return to school. In fact, Lewis said the family is now “looking at other options” so that Jasmine won’t have to return to public school.
“The whole thing just doesn’t seem fair to me that all of us are getting blamed and attacked online for the one girl’s action,” Bates told KEZI.
Craig Swanson, the principal at Lebanon High, said the student responsible for the racist post could face punishment. He added that the incident would not be swept under the rug, arguing that some students’ unfamiliarity with the racist history of blackface is no excuse for such behavior
“I think we need as a school to examine and educate the whole idea of blackface,” Swanson said in a statement. “Though there was a role for it, to understand that’s not acceptable, and I will take that on as principal.”
In a letter, the superintendent for Lebanon Community Schools apologized for the photo and said the district would take steps to better educate students and staff about racism and bigotry.
Watch more in the video below.