Jason Ives gushes on his former pupil, player

Elkhart High School Principal Jason Ives (left) shown here in February with former Elks star running back Jeff Wilson, Jr., turned potential conflict into a teachable moment on Friday during a school pep rally. 

Given the contentious nature of news, more of it is bad than good: In race relations, conflict and strife typically grab the headlines, instead of harmony, unity, and education.

That's why we wanted to bring readers Saturday's front-page story, “'Blackface becomes teachable moment.' ”

An incident at Elkhart High School, created by misunderstanding, could have have morphed into more bad news. Instead, High School Principal Jason Ives flipped the script, turning potential conflict into a teachable moment.

At Friday's pep rally, several high school students showed up with their faces painted black.

Black was one of four assigned colors for the rally; other colors were red, white, and blue.

The students didn't mean anything by painting their faces black, other than to express school spirit.

Some families, however, were understandably offended. Two of them complained to Mitchell Jordan, an African American Palestine City Council member. Jordan then called Herald-Press reporter William Patrick, who checked into the matter.

When cultures collide, people often interpret an act or image differently. (That's why companies offer diversity training for their employees.)

In those darkened faces, offended parents saw something entirely different than did the students, who attached no social or historical significance to them.

What those students didn't understand is that painting their faces black could recall the Blackface worn by minstrel show performers, who applied burnt cork on cocoa butter, or black grease paint, as makeup.

In skits, dances, jokes, and songs, those performers – mostly white but also some black – acted out demeaning and offensive caricatures, drawn from racist stereotypes, such as Jim Crow, Uncle Tom, Buck, and Mammy.

Blackface performances, starting in the 1800s, didn't end with minstrel shows. They continued until the mid-20th Century, through vaudeville, film, and television. Blackface as commercial performance died decades ago, but those stereotypes continue to affect popular culture.

When Principal Ives saw the painted faces, he didn't come down on the students. He pulled them aside and explained why their actions could offend. Feeling bad, students immediately went to the locker room and washed the paint off.

End of story, except a few students now know a little more about history and race in America. 

Jordan and Elkhart Independent School District Superintendent Lamont Smith, who also is African American, applauded Ives.

So do we. By using education to avert conflict, this educator provided a teachable moment on race for the entire community.

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