A Brown County Schools coach and substitute teacher is facing controversy because of a photo on Facebook where he appears in blackface.
It is unclear if he will be fired from his position. Brown County Schools Superintendent Laura Hammack said in an email Gist’s status with Brown County Schools is still undetermined.
Richard Gist posted the photo in a comment section on Facebook in response to a post about blackface.
The photo, from more than 10 years ago, is of him dressed up as Bob Marley for Halloween. His caption read “What’s wrong with it?"
After backlash in the comments, he made it his Facebook profile picture as well.
According to a Jan. 29 Facebook post from Gist, he said was unaware blackface was offensive. He has since deleted his Facebook account.
This event comes around the same time as a similar controversy involving Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. People are calling for him to resign because of a racist photo on his page in a yearbook.
Blackface often plays up stereotypes and has historically been used to dehumanize African Americans, said Vauhxx Booker of Black Lives Matter Bloomington.
Booker said he saw the post and Gist’s comments and contacted the Brown County Schools Superintendent.
“I was taken aback by the callous insensitivity that Mr. Gist showed,” Booker said.
A Brown County Schools press release said Friday the post has created a division in the school community, but the district plans to use it as a learning opportunity.
The release said the district expects students to be respectful and employees should model the behavior.
Gist's separation is listed in the agenda for the Feb. 7 Board of School Trustees meeting.
A member of the school community started a petition to keep Gist.
“He does not deserve the treatment he is receiving for showing his support in someone he is inspired by,” the petition’s description on Change.org read. “Please sign this petition in hope of keeping an amazing person and a great coach on our team.”
The petition, created Jan. 26, had 2,108 signatures as of 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Booker said he thinks many people who signed the petition do not have the context for the whole situation.
“A lot of folks thought perhaps it was an image maliciously dug out of his background,” Booker said. “No one went searching for this image. Mr. Gist brought it out.”
Booker said the photo is still offensive, despite being taken years ago.
“The issue isn’t the costume itself,” he said. “Even if the image was well-intended at the time, later on he weaponized it on this post.”
According to the release, the district plans to provide training for all Brown County Schools staff and coaches to teach cultural competence and sensitivity, online civility and how to have crucial conversations.
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