Published October 16, 2012
BUFFALO, N.Y. – A pep rally skit by three white high school students who wore blackface and parodied Chris Brown's arrest for assaulting Rihanna has officials in a largely white New York district vowing to set clearer expectations for school events.
The skit was one of several pop culture parodies performed Friday at Waverly High School as part of an annual "Mr. Waverly" competition, Superintendent Joseph Yelich said. The one in question had a male student portraying Brown standing over another cowering actor playing Rihanna; a third male student played an arresting officer.
A picture from the skit posted to social media and other sites including Facebook, Tumblr and CNN iReport drew thousands of views and dozens of comments, many calling the skit blatantly racist and blasting the idea of drawing laughs from domestic violence.
Brown was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty to felony assault for the attack on Rihanna in 2009. Both singers are black.
Yelich said he has not kept track of the number of complaints to the small district in southern New York's Tioga County but said the "Mr. Waverly" tradition is being re-examined. Other skits featured Tarzan chasing a gorilla, hockey players brawling, and Spider-Man.
"I mean, this is a pep rally; we're supposed to be cheering on our team," said Yelich, who has been on the job a little over a year. "The fact that skits are involved and parodies ... it strayed from that and it got into a different kind of competition."
A Waverly High alumnus who posted comments on CNN said that while he doesn't believe the students meant to offend, he was surprised administrators didn't intervene.
"There were adults who should have stood up and said, `Hey, guys, this is not OK. Blackface is not OK. Is it illegal? No. But you should really not do that,"' Matthew Dishler, 24, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Rose Garrity, executive director of A New Hope Center, an agency in nearby Oswego County that assists victims of domestic and sexual abuse and other crimes, also put responsibility on the adults.
"They were trying to make something funny that is far from funny, and they were being incredibly racist while they were doing it," Garrity said. "I doubt any of those children had any idea about the history of racism and minstrels or anything like that."
Garrity said her agency has been working with Waverly and other districts on anti-violence and anti-bullying programs and would continue its outreach.
"Domestic violence isn't funny," Garrity said. "Three women every day are killed in this country by the man they're partnered with. It's anything but funny."