NSU Professor provides historical insight into Isle of Wight ‘blackface’ video

Posted at 6:16 PM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 18:16:53-04

A viral video showing a local student in blackface has people divided, with not everyone understanding why some call the video offensive.

The video was part of a class project for a government class at Isle of Wight Academy.

The school has said they do not condone the video and disciplined the students after it was presented, but some weighing in on Facebook have asked, "what's the big deal?" and said the students were just "trying to be historically accurate."

NewsChannel 3 went to Norfolk State University history professor Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander for some insight.

"I have to say, I was a bit horrified," said Newby-Alexander, about seeing the video for the first time.

She says she sees nothing historical about how the students tried to portray a landmark Supreme Court case for the project.

"The depiction of this woman screaming, she was loud, she was vulgar, she sounded uneducated and dressed like a clown was typical, standard blackface performance," said Newby-Alexander.  "I just wonder, is that the way these young people see African Americans? Because the picture of the woman at the center of the case that they were supposed to be talking about looked like a middle class, well-educated woman."

The court case they were assigned was Mapp vs. Ohio.

Newby-Alexander says to understand why the portrayal is offensive, people need to understand the context behind the original videos that depicted blackface.  "Every time that you would see these performances, it was designed to dehumanize African Americans," she said.

"They would exaggerate the color, the features, the mannerisms, the voices, the behaviors of African Americans to not only make them funny, but more dangerously, to make them non-sociable, to make them inferior," Newby-Alexander said.

The three students who made the video were disciplined by the school.

Newby-Alexander says hopefully this can be used as a teachable moment.