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CU Black Outs: If white people paint their faces black at games, is that racist?

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A popular way for colleges to hype big games is to ask fans to dress in one of the school's colors -- and the most passionate attendees often paint their face and body that color, too. But when one of those colors is black, are white supporters who take brush to skin engaging in a racist act? That's a question being raised at (naturally) the University of Colorado in regard to the concept of "Black Outs."

The Boulder Daily Camera reports that the Boulder Faculty Assembly's diversity committee plans to address this issue at a meeting next month, with a draft resolution calling on "the campus community to 'vigorously address' the unacceptable behavior."

Yet students who painted themselves black at football games tell the Camera they were merely trying to display school spirit by donning one of the school's official colors (the other is gold), not behave in a racially insensitive way.

In the past, Black Outs haven't only been promoted by students -- and neither have they eschewed paint. In advance of a 2008 black-out game versus West Virginia, the CU Book Store's Facebook page posted the following:

Nothing shows your enthusiasm for the big game like a face painting! The CU Book Store will paint your face for free for the Blackout game from 3:30 to 6:30.

It's important to note that the face painting involved black designs, as seen in the photo from the Facebook posting above, as opposed to slathering a person's entire mug in black.

More recently, an indication that the university is growing more cautious about Black Outs popped up on this Facebook event page relating to the CU men's basketball team contest versus Kansas -- which was declared an unofficial Black Out contest. A post script to the item reads:

We were able to get the department behind the wearing black initiative for this game (the department can't call it a "Blackout" but we can say "wear black" in our publications...we're still calling it a blackout among the students!).

CU's smart to tread lightly in this area, and not just because of the toxic cultural history of black-face minstrelsy in this country. Like it or not, the university has a reputation for being lily white in comparison with many major colleges around the country, and the phenomenon of white kids in black face may make it harder for the likes of CU football coach Jon Embree to recruit young African-Americans to play on his team. Embree's first National Letter of Intent Day scorecard shows that he's quite skilled in this regard -- and given that he, too, is African-American, the circulation of photos in which Caucasians are painted black might be seen as sending a mixed message to any parent who's seen clips of Al Jolson singing about his mammy in The Jazz Singer.

So does that mean the end of Black Outs at CU? Too soon to tell -- but don't be surprised if there are more Gold Outs in the future.

More from our Sports archive: "Jon Embree, new CU Buffs head coach, pledges to bring the swagger back at press conference."

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