Law prof rejects retribution against Oregon blackface prof

A Florida A&M University law professor is defending a professor from the University of Oregon whose Halloween costume was deemed a violation of university policies against discrimination.

Darryl Jones, an African American, argued in a post on the Taxprof Blog that while he would have been “extremely bothered” to have seen UO professor Nancy Shurtz wearing blackface at a Halloween party at her home had he been in attendance, he is also “very uncomfortable” with calls for her to be punished for doing so.

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Shurtz was put on administrative leave after a photo surfaced of her using blackface at a Halloween party where other professors and students were both in attendance, even though Shurtz claims she dressed up as a black doctor from the book Black Man in a White Coat, a story that documents a black man struggling with race bias as a doctor, in order to make students more aware of racial issues.

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“I accept, as has her University and even her colleagues who want her out, that she intended no offense and indeed is a strong supporter of diversity and other issues generally thought to involve restorative justice for America’s racism,” writes Jones, though he acknowledges that “there are clear dangers in an African American saying so,” because “there is always the danger of being labeled an ‘uncle tom’ or an apologist for racists if one doesn’t adopt the hot tone of indignation.”

Jones draws a comparison to the situation from “one example from many an [sic] African American boy’s memory,” asserting that “it would be like a young white boy uttering the N word amongst his exclusively or mostly black friends, thinking himself one of them because they always hang out and listen to the same music.”

Despite the bonds of friendship, Jones explains, “cultural rules required the kid take a beat down for his offense no matter how much he might previously have been a member of our crew. It was a painful thing to witness, knowing that the kid thought and wanted himself to be so much one of us that he would repeat a word reserved to us exclusively.”

Jones concludes by declaring that he will not participate in the attack on Shurtz, saying it is more important to ensure that she learns from the ordeal than to punish her for it.

“Once it is accepted that she intended no offense...the response ought to move from retribution to dialogue and education,” he contends. “From now on, she won’t forget and we won’t let her forget; no matter how much she admires our culture, the fortitude with which we have earned our rights in this society, no matter how much she secretly wishes she too had participated in civil rights marches, or had been the pioneer in a literary worthy racial struggle, she will never be one of us.”

Shurtz is expected to face disciplinary action for violating the nondiscrimination policy, but UO has declined to give specifics, citing privacy considerations.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @kassydillon