‘Serena Williams’ Blackface Costume By School Board Member Sparks Outrage

A photograph published last week showing a school official of the Iredell-Statesville School Board dressed in a Serena Williams Blackface costume sparked outrage among netizens. The photo shows Anna Bonham, a District 7 representative to Iredell-Statesville School District in North Carolina, dressed in blackface to resemble African American tennis star Serena Williams. Bonham stated that the photo was from Halloween around five years ago.

Bonham, a Caucasian female, was shown in the photo wearing a pink tennis outfit and sporting a tennis racket. The offending features in her ensemble however, were the big curly black wig, the dark brown turtleneck and the brown face paint, to resemble Serena William’s skin color. This was described by many who saw the photo as “blackface”.

Bonham removed the picture in question from her Facebook page after the photo was published in an article on the Statesville Record and Landmark. The school official’s offensive costume received criticism from the public. According to Bonham, she took down the blackface photo because of “increased media attention”.

Bonham told the press last Friday:

“There was absolutely no ill-intent. I am an avid tennis fan and player (I play several times a week). Serena is my favorite player.”

John Rogers, another member of the school board admittedly finds the costume inappropriate. “I wouldn’t have done it.” Rogers however believes that Bonham truly regrets the photo after he spoke with her. “I don’t think there is a racist bone in her body.” Bonham’s colleague added.

John Rogers suspects that the photo’s emergence is the related to Bonham’s running for re-election for her position in the school board. They suspect that the blackface photo was dug up in an effort by her opponents to discredit her candidacy.

The blackening of the skin to portray African Americans – called Blackface or Blackfacing – is considered offensive because of the portrayal of African American stereotypes. Julianne Hough of Dancing with the Stars, a Caucasian, was at the receiving end of heavy criticism when she dressed in blackface in a Halloween party. Jewish New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind was also in hot water when a photo of him surfaced showing him in blackface.

According to an article written by North Carolina State University professor Blair Kelly on the website thegrio.com,

“Blackface minstrelsy first became nationally popular in the late 1820s when the white male performers portrayed African-American characters using burnt cork to blacken their skin. Wearing tattered clothes, the performances mocked black behavior, playing racial stereotypes for laughs”

Should the school official who donned the “Serena Williams” blackface costume be punished?