It’s 2016, and there are people in Bloomington wearing blackface in public [UPDATE: make that “blueface”]

UPDATE 9/24: The students pictured below were not in blackface; they were (attempting to) dress as Blue Man Group. Accusations of explicit racism have been corrected below: incorrect info is struck through and new info is underlined. Full update, and sources for new info below, in the post that succeeds this one.

Okay, friends, I’m not going to sugar-coat this. Bloomington? We have a problem.


People walking openly in blackface through downtown Bloomington, Saturday, September 17, 2016.

Bloomington, Indiana, Sept. 17 — White people walking in blackverydarkblueface through downtown. (@2016 All rights reserved. Contact author of this blog for redistribution information.)


This photo was taken Saturday, September 17, on Sixth Street facing west. In the background at left is the Monroe County Courthouse; at right is Sixth Street, which has been barricaded to make room for a large white tent that was one of several venues for the 23rd annual Lotus World Music & Arts Festival. Lotus is a very popular annual event that attracts several thousand people to half a dozen venues in downtown Bloomington (pop. +-85,000); its logo is projected on the front of the tent.

That’s what’s in the background. In the foreground are young white people, casually walking through downtown with black very dark blue paint covering their faces. They are part of a group of a dozen, fourteen probably undergraduates at Indiana University (enrollment +-48,000, at least half of the city’s population), all clad in black, crossing Sixth on North Walnut Street toward several bars popular with students. One of their party seen in each photo has his face blurred because he was not in black verydarkblueface.

As these photos were taken, around 11:30 pm, I was a block away, in that Lotus tent, acting as the emcee that evening for Grammy-nominated Ghanaian reggae artist Rocky Dawuni, London-based The Dhol Foundation (led by maven of the Punjabi drum Johnny Kalsi, also of Afro-Celt Sound System and Transglobal Underground fame), and the perennial Bloomington favorite, Swedish rap/swing group Movits!, who were performing at that moment for a crowd of almost a thousand screaming fans. I know that the subjects of these photos are not attending the Festival because they’re not wearing the wristbands required to get into the venues. Anyone present that night would have understood instantly where they were going: the bars.

The photos in this post were taken by a professional photographer shooting Lotus on assignment, who for the moment prefers to remain anonymous. He was not sure what to do with them. He gave me all thirty photos and permission to show them, from which I’ve selected the four that most clearly illustrate the incident. This is the statement he wrote to accompany them:

I was asked by several people for these photos after I decided my own Facebook page was not a constructive place for me to post them due to some of the comments I was getting. This really isn’t about me. Several people have also now indicated the face paint may be blue.

However, these are all the images I have of the people who passed me about 11:30 Saturday night dressed all in black, and with dark paint on their faces. I was unable to determine who they are, or why they are dressed this way. If nothing else, these images provide evidence that these people did in fact walk North on Walnut at the intersection of 6th Street at that time. I also met a woman today who said she saw the same or a similar group walking near the garage on 4th Street on the same evening.

Hopefully these images help bring awareness, and a civil dialogue to this subject. I cannot assume what these people in the images were thinking, and if they can be located, maybe they can be asked. I was also informed today that this was reported to the [IU] Dean of Students earlier this week. I would assume they are investigating. So, let’s see what happens.


A white woman, probably an IU undergraduate student, not at all shy about the fact that her face is covered in dark paint. One of her friends (at right) has the same paint on his face. Saturday, September 17, 2016, downtown Bloomington, Indiana.

Bloomington, Indiana, Sept. 17 — A white woman, probably an undergraduate student at Indiana University, whose enrollment equals more than half the city’s population, shows herself off, her face and the face of one of her friends covered in dark paint. (@2016 All rights reserved. Contact author of this blog for redistribution information.)


The photographer is trying to be as non-judgmental as he can. While he didn’t want to speculate as to their thinking, he reported to me in person that as this young woman walked past and showed off, she said to him, “Don’t I look black as f**k?” Another witness to the incident with whom I spoke was standing outside the tent with a young African-American woman, who saw this group crossing the street and scowled; it is hard to see this as anything other than intentional blackface, although information has since come forward that confirms it was not intentional.

A white woman wearing blackface without shame crosses Sixth Street, downtown Bloomington, Indiana, Saturday, September 17, 2016.

Bloomington, Indiana, Sept. 17 — A white woman wearing black very dark blue paint on her face crosses Sixth Street. (@2016 All rights reserved. Contact author of this blog for redistribution information.)


The juxtaposition of Lotus — a festival I’ve been involved with since its beginning, which celebrates the diversity of the world’s cultures — and these careless, casual racists, IU students unable to foresee that their costumes might be problematic, ambling through on their way to drink, leaves me cold with disgust irritated and annoyed. All this is happening in the district I represent as a city councilmember. Let me not be misunderstood: there were far more IU students having a good, non-racist intentionally un-racist time in that tent than are visible in these photos. But we have our share locally of students, coming from some far-off suburb, who’re enjoying themselves some oblivious to their white privilege.

Bloomington, Indiana, Sept. 17 -- A group of white men and women in their early 20s with black paint on their faces cross Sixth Street while walking up North Walnut Street about 11:30 p.m. There are several bars on Walnut between Sixth and Eighth Streets that are popular with IU students.

Bloomington, Indiana, Sept. 17 — A member of a group of white men and women in their early twenties, with black very dark blue paint on their faces, turns and smiles as they cross Sixth Street while walking up North Walnut Street about 11:30 p.m during a pub crawl. There are several bars on Walnut between Sixth and Eighth that are popular with IU students. (@2016 All rights reserved. Contact author of this blog for redistribution information.)


If you are a news organization, I will put you in touch with the photographer about republishing his photos. If you’re just a social-media user, please spread this post around. If you know who these people might be, please email this blog. They need to know that this behavior is not acceptable in our city, should not be acceptable anywhere, and should not be acceptable in 2016, no matter what the political circumstances are in America these days.

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  1. I attended IUB from 1999 to 2004. Black face is a tradition. I repeat, black face is a tradition. The frats would make the pledges walk around in black face and afro wigs on. As an Afo American women with natural untreated hair trying to figure out who I am in this world, hundreds of miles away from the comfort of the community I grew up in, this was alarming. So much so that I was paralyzed with confusion about what to do because everyone else seamed not to be disturbed. One day, while crossing the library atrium early on a weekday morning, I had the traumatic pleasure of watching two black faced, afro-wig clad white students make the trek across the atrium in the the opposite direction. I felt so ashamed to be me. The closer they got the more ashamed and outraged about feeling ashamed I got, all I could was keep my legs moving, pass them, out the door and into the parking lot. Halfway to my destination, something hit me and I stopped, enough was enough! I turned around to hunt the guys down. Not knowing what I was going to say or do but I couldn’t find them. I went straight to the Dean of Students Office. I was calm and explained what I had saw and was passed off to secretary to secretary. After telling my story to the tired one, she said the dean wasn’t in, she didn’t know when he would be in and she had no way of knowing if he would be able to talk to me once he got in. And that’s when i lost it. I broke down in tears, yelling God knows what. People came running and before I knew it they had the dean on the phone at his personal residence. An ad was eventually placed in the school newspaper and a Black Afro Amer Studies professor came forward and said those particular students, on that particular day were completing a class presentation and arrived in “costume”. A meeting was arranged between the professor, a student advocate and myself. I was discouraged from bringing anyone else with me. When I got the call about the meeting from a school police officer, he insisted that the problem was with how I interpreted things because the professor himself was black and that he knew about these things because his girlfriend was black. Implying that I didn’t have a right to feel the way I did. i wen tot he meeting and nothing was settled. The professor refused to show me the syllabus that outlined the assignment because had had “tenur” and didn’t have to. i later met with the Dean of Students who, looking back, sweet talked me to drop my complaint by flattering me with compliments and offering to send a letter to a colleague of his who would possibly entertain the idea of mentoring or reviewing my resume upon graduation, with but no guarantees of course. And I bought it,hook line and sinker. I even permed my hair shortly after and no longer “looked like” the imitations. It took me years to discover what I actually loss during the whole process and it is an unshakable stain on social conscious. Today my hair is natural again and I am consistently fighting the negative perceptions that seep into my mind from our society that I’m ugly, that the hair that grows out of my head is bad and that I am a clowned fool. My time at IUB was much more than an education. It was the beginning of an internal war that I didn’t realize existed, which as of yet,has no end. And I am sadden to see that this same “war” is being passed on to yet again another generation.

  2. So This Is Okay Right? So I Would Be Wrong If I Smacked The Black Paint Off Of Her Face Right ? This Is Real Ignorant And Disgusting To Me !

  3. It is blue face paint. The photographer needs to learn to white balance. Everyone involved with this story needs to apologize and/or resign. Since no one involved with the story would bother, here is a quick white balanced version of the photo:

  4. I don’t know if people can see this link, but this link explains how it was a Blue Man Group and not black face. There are pictures in the comments as well that were taken at the bar that same night.

  5. Mary Helen Ayres

    I posted this to my facebook page and also heard the BMG explanation,and received an indoor photo of them, all in bright blue paint. Doesn’t account for the woman’s reported comment, or the lack of awareness of what they’d look like outside after dark…

    • Her comment was most likely her realizing how dark the blue paint appeared under the street lights and not intended to come across as anything racial. Also we are getting her quote out of context by who appears to be a biased and unreliable witness.
      Why do you expect a group of undergrads in various states of inebriation to know that the street lights would make them look different, when a professional photographer whose job is to know how light affects color was apparently unable to tell they were wearing blue paint (something that should have been obvious to a professional photographer).

  6. You all are ridiculous. it’s a blue man group themed bar crawl. pretty soon no one will be able to dress up on halloween if people like you keep finding ways to make things racially charged. wow.

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