Face paint is no longer permitted for students and fans attending football games at Arizona State University, after an incident that many found shocking and offensive. Students involved in the incident, however, contend that covering a face with black paint does not necessarily equal "blackface," and that the paint is part of a long tradition and displays school spirit.
According to AZ Central, the face paint was worn by fans to celebrate a "black-out" game. To match players' black uniforms, fans are asked to wear black clothing and "black out" the stadium. It's not clear whether face paint was ever officially called for by the school, but paint is a common "spirit" element, and there's evidence that the school has faced controversy over the same issue before (it's also not the first controversy over blackface at a school this year).
This year, the controversy arose when students who attended the September 25 "blackout" game uploaded photos of themselves to Facebook, wearing black face paint that resembled the old minstrel style, blackface, which was traditionally used to represent certain crude and insulting stereotypes.
On Twitter, some blame the student who initially spoke to officials about the association between the black face paint and the racist pantomime style. Others are calling out the Black African Coalition at the school to press for a ban.
A girl is trying to ban facepaint at ASU because students painted their face black... At the BLACKOUT game.
— Collin (@Alpha_Douche) October 13, 2014
The ASU Black/African Coalition is saying that students were insensitive by wearing black face paint at the UCLA blackout game...Currently, the school will not confirm that face paint is officially banned, and is framing the matter as a polite request.
— Judson Tomaiko (@JTomaiko) October 13, 2014
In 2011, Rolling Out reported a similar incident when a televised event showed fans who had painted all or most of their exposed skin black. That event, too, was a blackout game, and fans had been asked to dress in all black.
In that case, when people spoke of finding the paint jobs offensive, others jumped to defend, insisting the face paint was not meant to hearken to blackface days, but only to represent the team colors.
The school has asked that fans refrain from wearing any type of face paint to upcoming games, whether it is black or not, but have not confirmed whether those who do show up with faces painted will be turned away or asked to remove it.
[photo credit: Nick Bastian Tempe, AZ]