A student at the University of Central Arkansas has been kicked out of his fraternity after wearing black face as part of his Halloween costume.
A photo posted Friday night on Instagram by Brock Denton showing him dressed up as Bill Cosby for his fraternity’s Halloween party was quickly spread around online, The Echo, the student newspaper at UCA, reported.
Denton, who was a member of the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity, has apologized and deleted the picture.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Denton Posted the Photo With the Caption ‘It Was a Bold Night’
Brock Denton posted the photo on his now-deleted Instagram profile, @chewbrockaaa, Saturday morning after a Halloween party held at the Sigma Tau Gamma house, The Echo, the University of Central Arkansas student newspaper, reports.
The photo shows him wearing a multi-colored sweater made famous by Bill Cosby, with his face painted black, while posing with two friends. He captioned the photo, “It was a bold night.”
The party was held Friday night. By Saturday, the photo had spread across social media, with angry reactions pouring in.
“Being black is not a costume,” UCA Senior Brenton Johnson told KARK-TV. “I instantly was upset. I got angry. Right now, the minority and the black community is really offended by this.”
The university responded to the outrage on Twitter, saying in a statement saying it “does not condone the behavior” seen in the photo.
According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity sent out an email to its members two days before the party, reminding them not to wear offensive costumes.
“What might be harmless to you, might be extremely offensive and hurtful to others,’ the email said, according to the newspaper. “Ask yourself, would I want a photo of me in this costume or next to someone in this costume to end up on the Internet for my family, professors, employer and future spouse to see? Who would want to explain that photo to a prospective employer or the news media?”
Several schools around the country used social media, handouts and displays on campus to warn students against wearing offensive and racist costumes after several viral incidents.
The University of Texas was one of those schools, issuing a 29-point checklist to members of the school’s Greek community, according to KVUE-TV.
“Cultural appropriation is when somebody adopts aspects of a culture that is not their own,” the Dean of Students’ office wrote in the letter.
Brenton Johnson said he hopes Denton and others at UCA learn from the incident.
“You educate people, you let them know how it made you feel and hopefully they will take that into consideration,” Johnson told KARK.
2. He Says He Has Received Death Threats & Said He ‘Fights for Equality Everyday’
Denton posted, and later deleted, a lengthy apology on his Instagram page.
In the apology, Denton said he has received death threats and social media has “made me out to be a monster, a racist, a supremacist and those are just three of the many hateful names I have been called.”
You can read his full apology, which is full of grammatical errors, below:
There are a few things that should be brought to light and addresses accordingly. First off I have had to leave my work because of this whole ordeal, and that is why I have not been able to post this sooner….Within a matter of a few hours social media has made me out to be a monster, a racist, a supremacist and those are just three of the many hateful names I have been called. I have been sent death threats, threats to burn my house down. I am scared for my life, but none of that matters to me now.
What matters to me right now is informing people of who Brock Denton really is and more importantly what I am not. I am the farthest thing from discrimination, as a matter of fact I fight for equality everyday, I’ve been writing a book for the past two years on what it really means to be a good person. I wake up in the morning and pray to God that I can be just a little bit better than the day before.
And today marks the day that I have to be a lot better than the day before. Ask anyone of my friends and colleagues and they will tell you how I believe that nothing one is more important than the next, we are all equal in different ways. I am in no means better than ANYBODY else. Social media has corrupted society in regard to heated controversial topics such as this. People claim they want equality and for the racism and hatred of one another to end, but the accusations that have been made have only further divided us.
I apologize from the bottom of my heart and absolutely never intended this to happen the way that it did. I never EVER would have done this if I would have known the domino effect that follow. I swear to everyone that I have never stereotyped a person based on how they look. It’s not me.
I hope this situation will end with out me being killed over a Halloween costume, but if that does happen, I hope that people first know who I am as a person.
Please except my apology not because of me but because of the sake of this great nation. We will never achieve peace if we only react in violence. Please forgive me. That’s all I ask.
He has not commented beyond that apology post.
The university’s police department has said it is investigating the threats Denton says were made against him.
3. The University’s President Called the Photo ‘Highly Offensive & Repugnant’
UCA President Tom Courtway issued a handwritten statement about the incident on the university’s social media accounts, saying school officials were “made aware of a picture on social media showing what is purported to be a UCA student wearing black face.”
Courtway called the picture “highly offensive and repugnant.” He said, “this representation goes against all we at UCA believe in and stand for.
In his statement, Courtway said, “this institution embraces all races, cultures and nationalities. We strive each day to be welcoming, inclusive and diverse, and will always continue to do so.”
Courtway said the incident is being investigated by the appropriate university offices.
“We can assure the UCA family and all others that it will (be) dealt with accordingly,” Courtway wrote.
The university is located in Conway, Arkansas, about 30 miles from Little Rock. There are about 11,700 students enrolled at the university, according to its website.
UCA dealt with another controversy involving race last year, when its yearbook was pulled over a caption that said a group of black students performing in the UCA Step Show were wearing “thug faces,” according to KHTV.
The staff for the yearbook, The Scroll, later apologized, saying, “After discussing the issue with individuals who voiced concerns about the use of this term, we understand that the word used in this context is highly offensive to many.”
Courtway also issued a statement after the yearbook issue.
“Today The Scroll was released. This is the UCA student yearbook, and while it is produced, and paid for, by the students of this university, like other publications it is a reflection on this institution. The public oftentimes does not know the difference,” Courtway said. “The words we use matter. In my opinion, there are two captions in The Scroll that I find offensive and inappropriate as they relate to our African-American students and friends. Offensive, inappropriate or derogatory terms against a race, group or an individual are not acceptable.”
4. The UCA Chapter of Denton’s Fraternity Has Been Suspended While the Incident Is Investigated
The Sigma Tau Gamma fraternity’s chapter at the University of Central Arkansas has been suspended by the Sigma Tau Gamma headquarters, the university said on Twitter.
The Sigma Tau Gamma UCA chapter tweeted, and then deleted, a statement saying Denton had been expelled from the chapter, according to The Echo.
“After reviewing the recent inappropriate and offensive behavior of one [of]our members, that member has been expelled indefinitely,” the tweet said.
The Sigma Tau Gamma national office tweeted, “the actions of these students is completely unacceptable. The chapter has been suspended immediately.” An investigation has been launched.
In a later statement issued by Sigma Tau Gamma, the national fraternity said, “This type of behavior exhibited by our members will not be tolerated and requires swift and immediate action.”
“We have a duty and responsibility to practice the principles we espouse to uphold and act in a responsible manner in all of the behaviors we exhibit as members of the fraternity. I would like to thank the UCA student sand the Students for the Propagation of Black Culture (SPBC) that brought this incident to our intention,” the fraternity’s chief executive officer, Steve Latour, said in the statement.
Students on the campus reacted with shock and outrage, according to the student newspaper.
“I don’t think dressing up like a black person with black paint on was respectful,” senior Haley Jones said.
Alexis Downing, a junior, said she was surprised it happened at UCA.
“In Greek life we talk about diversity so much and having that Halloween party was not a good representation of diversity,” Downing told The Echo. “As an African-American, I am very offended by it.”
5. Denton, Who Says He Had Never Heard of Black Face, Is a Sophomore at UCA From Greenbrier, Arkansas
Brock Denton is a sophomore at the University of Central Arkansas. He is originally from Greenbrier, Arkansas, and graduated from Greenbrier High School, according to his Facebook page.
Denton said in a comment on his Instagram page that he had “never heard of black face” before the incident.
“Believe me or don’t but at this point all I can do is be truthful,” Denton wrote.
There have been several high profile incidents involving black face as part of a Halloween costume, including in 2013 when Julianne Hough as part of her costume depicting “Crazy Eyes” from the Netflix show Orange Is the New Black.
And last year, country singer Jason Aldean faced social media backlash for wearing black face.
Also last year, an Alabama teacher, Heath Morrow, apologized after wearing a black face costume to a party. A photo of him in the Kanye West costume went viral.
And a fraternity and sorority at UCLA came under fire for a “Kanye Western” party that featured some attendees wearing black face.
Black face originated in the 1830s, with white actors donning the black facepaint to portray stereotypical African-American characters, according to the Huffington Post.
Blair Kelley, an associate professor at North Carolina State University, wrote about black face in a 2013 article for The Grio:
Minstrelsy desensitized Americans to horrors of chattel slavery. These performances were object lessons about the harmlessness of southern slavery. By encouraging audiences to laugh, they showed bondage as an appropriate answer for the lazy, ignorant slave. Why worry about the abolition of slavery when black life looked so fun, silly, and carefree? Even the violence of enslavement just became part of the joke.
Stero Williams wrote in an article in The Daily Beast, titled “Dear White People: Blackface is not OK,” that, “You are expected to convince oppressors who are sitting in the more privileged position why they shouldn’t reduce you to a caricature. Whiteness maintains its position as a cultural standard by the distorting and mocking of blackness on a fairly routine basis — and that position is why the fetishizing of blackness has such a damaging cultural effect.”