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Homecoming photos show Idaho students in blackface with baby doll painted black hanging from stick

The photos were quickly taken down after some students appeared to be in blackface and a baby doll painted black hanging from a stick was seen in a crowd.

SHELLEY, Idaho — Last week, Shelley High School posted photos from its annual Russet Olympics, the school's competitive take on homecoming, on social media. The photos were quickly taken down after some students appeared to be in blackface, with one student seen carrying a baby doll painted black hanging from a stick.

Students were asked to wear clothes associated with their grade level, according to Brennen Kauffman at the Idaho Falls Register. The majority of the senior class wore black clothes, and three seniors were seen with their faces painted in black.

The backlash to the social media posts showing what appears to be a student in blackface was swift. However, so was the reaction from people who supported and defended the students.

Credit: KTVB
During Shelley High School's Russett Olympics, students were seen in photos in blackface and a baby painted black hung from a stick.

When asked about how any of this could occur, the school directed The 208 to a statement posted to the school's and the district's websites.

The statement reads, in part;

The goal of Russet Olympics is to promote unity, comradery, and school spirit. We welcome and invite anyone to attend and experience, first hand, the inclusive unifying environment that takes place at this annual event. It is unfortunate that some are mischaracterizing this year's event. It is never our intention to offend or demean. We will utilize this as a learning opportunity. We look forward to finishing this challenging year focusing on and supporting our students.

For Keeleigh Sheri, a Shelley High School graduate from the class of 2019, her first reaction to seeing the photos was "Oh no."

Sheri was one of three Black students in her entire class and seeing photos of students in what appears to be black face was a lot to take in.

She said she "wants to" believe what happened came from a place of ignorance, not hate.

"I want to believe that it was just something stupid that they did. Shelley seems to just kind of go out of its way to ignore whatever's going on," she said. "I kind of just feel like it was just tone-deaf. Why didn't anyone stop it?"

Sheri, who now attends BYU-Idaho, said the blame for what happened falls on the school for allowing it to happen.

The NAACP Pocatello chapter agrees with Sheri. In a Facebook post, the group explained the racist history of blackface and said the students should be "ashamed" if they knew it.

"We do not know if the students were aware of the meaning of wearing 'blackface.' If they did, they should be ashamed and apologize. What we do know, is that responsible adults at the event should have known and counseled the students that what they were doing was inappropriate.  We also know that photos of the students should never have made it on to the school's Facebook page," the group wrote, in part.

The NAACP explained that blackface started when white performers wore dark makeup to portray Black people and "were very often unflattering and relied heavily on exaggerated stereotypes and inaccurate caricatures. " Blackface was common in the mid-1800s to the early 1900s.

"The practice is considered deeply offensive," the NAACP Pocatello Branch said.

Sheri stopped short of calling the incident outright racist and said she has a hard time using it, even when it's obvious. However, she had no problem calling the baby doll painted black and hanging from a stick racist.

"If you don't understand blackface or why it's offensive, why even unintentionally, of recreating it is offensive, then you need to go and look up the history behind it, and put some thoughts into your brain and think about it," Sheri said. "Like really internalize this, put yourself into somebody else's shoes, somebody else's body and think, 'why would this be offensive to me if I were Black? What would I feel, looking at this? How does this look out of context?'"

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