What do Julianne Hough, Nick Cannon, and a Michigan history teacher all have in common? It sounds like the intro to a bad joke with a cheesy punch line, but it is really a valid question given the fact that all have recently received much scrutiny for coming across as offensive and racist for their representations of theatrical makeup. Now, some are asking whether Julianne Hough and Nick Cannon played a role in getting an MI teacher suspended after a history lesson on blackface.
By now, most people who follow celebrity gossip are familiar with Julianne Hough’s offense; she wore blackface as part of last year’s Halloween costume to portray a black character from the hit Netflix series Orange is the New Black and had to publicly apologize for her offense which she claims was out of admiration for the character and the popular TV show.
Nick Cannon wore whiteface to promote the release of his most recent album, White People Party Music, upsetting fans and critics alike. In March of this year, Cannon created an entire persona of himself, Connor Smallnut, as a white man, in which he posted images of himself in whiteface on Instragram, sparking the most recent media controversy, in which he was labeled a racist by some.
While Hough immediately apologized in order to keep her reputation and career intact, Cannon responded with laughs and continued defense of his actions. This led some on social media to ask why Cannon wasn’t expected to issue a public statement of apology.
A number of commenters on social media wonder if society and the media’s obsession with celebrities using theatrical makeup to portray the opposite race has gone too far. Did Julianne Hough and Nick Cannon get an MI teacher suspended? The incident in question occurred when a Michigan assistant principal suspended a history teacher for showing a 29-second clip of the use of blackface in 1800s theater as part of a lesson on historically-based racial segregation.
The Michigan middle school history teacher, Alan Barron, was suspended and placed on paid administrative leave for showing a video that depicted how white actors used blackface to portray blacks in theater as part of a lesson on Jim Crow laws and racial segregation. While the use of blackface is offensive and socially unacceptable today, the technique of using black theatrical makeup on white performers was common and accepted in the 1800s; a historical fact that will never change despite shifting societal needs and norms.
At the time the video was shown, Barron was just two weeks shy of retiring. Assistant Principal Melissa Provo observed Barron showing the video while sitting in on his history class and immediately ordered him to stop the lesson. Barron was later suspended on the claim that showing the racist video was racist in and of itself.
Provo felt that the video and history lesson was offensive, but some parents from the school question whether Provo has been influenced by the media coverage of Julianne Hough’s modern-day use of blackface, a clearly racist and offensive practice in modern times, and Nick Cannon’s use of whiteface.
Some of the parents of children in Barron’s class strongly disagreed with Provo’s decision to suspend Barron. Several African American parents stated that showing the historical, fact-based video to their children as part of an 8th grade history lesson was not a display of racism on the part of the Monroe, Michigan teacher.
One parent, Adrienne Aaron, who is white and married to a black man with a black daughter in Barron’s classroom, said “it had nothing to do with racism. History is history. We need to educate our kids to see how far we’ve come in America. How is that racism? He’s one of the best teachers we’ve had. We can’t believe that this is happening.”
Other parents have taken to social media in support of Barron, claiming that he was one of the best teachers in the district and had changed many students’ lives during his career spanning nearly four decades. One student created and distributed T-shirts in support of the beloved teacher.
Barron, 59, has been teaching at Monroe district schools for nearly 36 years, and the paid administrative leave threatened to keep him from participating in all school functions including a banquet to be held in honor of retiring teachers. One Monroe school district spokesman, Bobb Viergiels, refused to say that Barron had been “suspended,” but rather that he was “on leave” while they looked into the “personnel matter.”
Upon further investigation, though, the school district determined that Barron’s teaching methods and the use of the blackface video were not offensive in the context of a history lesson and that there was no wrongdoing on Barron’s part. As of Monday Barron was back in the classroom; his reinstatement a happy ending for the adored educator and his students.
The role that Julianne Hough and Nick Cannon played in getting this MI teacher suspended may indeed be significant since they both used blackface and whiteface, respectively, and the resulting media upheaval was intense. The incident leaves some questioning whether there is a double standard when it comes to the use of theatrical makeup by celebrities and if the hysteria stemming from Cannon and Hough’s actions was taken too far when the incident in question revolved around a factual history lesson.
By: Rebecca Savastio
Detroit Free Press