‘Blackface’ at the basketball game: Racism or ‘harmless skin-care joke’?

Jalen Johnson, one of the nation’s best high school basketball players, went to the free-throw line Wednesday night for his suburban Milwaukee team when Port Washington fans tried to distract him by holding and waving posters with his image.

They appeared to show him wearing blackface, which is odd because Johnson is African-American.

The students, aided by an unnamed adult, produced the pictures by lifting a photograph from Johnson’s Instagram account in which he’s wearing some sort of skin care product. Whether the students knew that isn’t clear.

“I cannot speak to the motivation or intent the Port Washington students had in displaying this photo, whether a harmless skin-care prank or a more deeply troubling, racially motivated scenario,” Nicolet Superintendent Robert Kobylski said in a statement.

At last night’s basketball game between Nicolet High School and Port Washington High School, Port Washington students…

Posted by Nicolet High School on Thursday, February 14, 2019

Port Washington principal Eric Burke says the pictures were immediately confiscated. From the account in Friday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he’s fairly livid.

“Even if nothing bad was intended, the conduct sends a bad message, intended or not,” the statement read. “We at the Port Washington-Saukville School District teach acceptance and respect, and this goes against the mission of our district to educate all students on the importance and value of respecting others.

This is an opportunity for all of us to learn to be more accepting of others and embrace our diversity. This conduct can be viewed as harmful and hateful. We condemn such behavior because this is not representative of the values of our District.

“Our students have expressed an interest in apologizing to the Nicolet student-athlete and the Nicolet fans for last night’s incident. We are glad that our students feel that way because they should know that these actions were wrong and that there are consequences to this harmful behavior.

We hope this incident can serve as a teaching moment for students and the entire school community on the effects and lasting impact of inappropriate conduct.

“We continue to investigate this incident and gather more facts. At this time, one student has been suspended in connection with this conduct. As the investigation continues, we will determine if other appropriate consequences are needed. One thing that is needed is for all of us to have a better understanding of the world around us and to respect the fact that we are all different.”

The Johnson family wouldn’t comment on the incident although Jalen tweeted a one-word response.