POST FALLS, Idaho - A North Idaho credit union is facing backlash for a photo showing four employees wearing blackface for Halloween costumes.
The picture was taken inside the Lewiston branch of P1FCU Tuesday. The story has created a firestorm on Facebook, but a large portion of commenters seem to have no issue with the image.
Many people may not be aware of the cultural and historical significance of blackface, so activists say it's important to educate themselves.
"It's profoundly humiliating. It is hurtful," said activist Phil Tyler while describing blackface. Tyler is the former president of the Spokane NAACP and co-founder of the Peaceful communities roundtable.
Tyler said blackface was a tool used to take away value from black people a century ago, and it's apparently something that continues to be a problem today.
"Blackface was used as a way of dehumanizing black people and a way of simply creating a caricature that was ignorant, and somehow less human than others," he said.
That's why it was a shock to many people when they saw that photo from inside P1FCU. The employees were dressing up as the famous Jamaican bobsled team from the 1988 Olympics.
Christopher Hughes used to live in Lewiston before moving to the westside of the state. He has been a member of P1FCU, but he says after seeing this photo he and his fiance are canceling their accounts.
"It was disgusting. I know we have a lot of ignorance on their part. I know it has a lot to do with not teaching on their part," Hughes said.
Blackface really got its start during the Jim Crow era. Black people were not allowed to be in films, so white actors portrayed them using blackface. You can see in films like Birth Of A Nation that those portrayals were not positive.
"It was used to propagate racial violence and create an atmosphere where we should fear black people and worse, kill them," Tyler said.
Tyler says for those who don't find images like this offensive, it's important to listen to those who are offended and try to see things from their perspective.
"We should be sensitive to hear how it impacts others and really learn and educate ourselves from that," he said.
P1FCU President & CEO Chris Loseth released the following statement Wednesday:
"An incident of cultural insensitivity occurred yesterday during Halloween that resulted in the posting of a picture to a personal Facebook page. The picture was meant to be a representation of the first Jamaican national bobsled team who gained fame in the 1988 Winter Olympic Games and whose heroics were made famous in the 1993 movie “Cool Runnings”. The 4 female employees are shocked and saddened by the results of their depiction of this famous group of Jamaican athletes and meant no harm or disrespect to anyone.
P1FCU did not post this picture on our Facebook page and offers our apologies to those who were offended by the actions of these employees. The employees involved have been reprimanded.
The need for cultural sensitivity among all Americans is well recognized and we will be reinforcing cultural diversity training with our entire staff."
Loseth declined an interview Wednesday. The credit union also would not say how long the employees wore those costumes while at work.
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