A school in Atlanta has apologised after children performed a poem for Black History Month in blackface masks.
Pupils at Kindezi Old Fourth Ward Charter School recited Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1896 poem “We Wear The Mask” while wearing black masks with exaggerated red lips and white eyes.A video of the recital, which was performed by seven and eight-year-olds, has been viewed millions of times since it was posted on Facebook by a concerned parent last week.
Semone Banks, who shared the footage, said many mothers were “pissed” and that the school “has to do better”.
“Kindezi School is a great school and we are all like a big family, however this act was not acceptable,” she said. “I do understand that it is a poem, but the kids could have made up their own mask and used emojis or anything other than blackfaces.
“There is a big lesson to be learned here.”
The school subsequently apologised for the “hurt, anger, frustration and disappointment” caused by the performance.
It said an investigation was underway to ensure “this never happens again” and that teachers were being educated on cultural competency in race and racism in the US.
On Facebook, the teacher who organised the performance offered her “sincerest apologies to all that have been offended”.
She said: “I understand the pain behind the concept of blackface and in no way was it my intent to be offensive, but to shed light on a part of our history that was not pretty.”
We Wear The Mask poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar in full:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!