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Girls Cavorting in Charcoal Facial Masks Spark ‘Blackface’ Outrage at SUNY Potsdam

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By Masha Froliak | 9:08 am, October 29, 2016

Two students at the State University of New York at Potsdam may think twice the next time they decide to enjoy a facial.

The young women have been assailed for racism after they posted a Snapchat video that pictured them cavorting about in their charcoal facial masks.

The video was quickly picked up by other students and started circulating on social platforms, causing an outrage. Many viewers interpreted the charcoal face masks as akin to “blackface”, in part because the women were listening to hip hop music.

“This is happening right now in my school SUNY Potsdam college, this is extremely disgusting and sad that they would even find this funny,” wrote one student.

At a small protest at the University, distraught students sung “We Shall Overcome” outside an administrative building.

As outrage grew, SUNY Potsdam President Kristin G. Esterberg, first issued a statement saying the video had been misinterpreted.

“While we now know that this was not the students’ intent, the videos have clearly raised very real and painful issues of insensitivity and bias, especially for students and faculty of color. This incident has also highlighted the importance of exercising caution on social media,” she wrote.

But the president soon found herself under siege for not taking a hard enough line against the young women …

And so the president issued a new statement backtracking and condemning the “blackface”:

“Anyone who—knowingly or unknowingly—dons blackface or other insensitive and biased depictions of people of other races, ethnicities, and cultures is committing a deeply offensive act. Regardless of intent, we do not condone the actions of these students. It is clear that the conversation surrounding these videos has also brought up other troubling racist incidents and microaggressions that our students and faculty of color have had to endure, both on campus and in the community.”

There has been no statement from the young women themselves, who have not been identified.

The practice of donning blackface — popular in late 19th and early 20th century America — has in recent decades been widely discredited as racist and offensive.

SUNY Potsdam’s “bias response team” — led by its newly hired chief diversity officer — is now conducting an investigation of the incident.

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