By Katherine Hamilton | firstname.lastname@example.org
A protest broke out when two Flagler College students went to a downtown café and encountered a white employee who came to work in blackface on Halloween. The pair rallied support on multiple social media platforms, bringing their protest from two people, to more than 100 throughout the course of the day.
Courtney Olson, the first student to go to The Bunnery Bakery and Café, was perplexed by what she saw and asked the employee who she was supposed to be. The employee answered by telling her she was dressed as Aunt Jemima.
“I let her know that it was wrong and offensive to perpetuate negative stereotypes and asked her to remove the blackface makeup,” Olson said. “She told me that it was just a character.”
The act of a non-black person wearing dark makeup all over their face is known as “blackface” and has negative historic and racial connotations.
Olson then went and brought her friend, Hasani Malone, to help her fight for the cause. The two of them told The Bunnery management that they were not going to leave until they received an explanation for the blackface and until the makeup was removed.
The owners called the police, and the girls were escorted from the premises on charges of trespassing.
Olson said that the owners called the police on Malone and not her; she noted that she is white and Malone is black.
After they were dismissed from the premises, Olson and Malone gathered all of their friends and peers together to protest. Many students and some faculty from Flagler College came to show support.
“I just hope people learn that racism isn’t tolerable. There’s not two sides that both have appropriate opinions,” Olson said. “There’s one side that’s tolerant and one side that’s not. It’s not a case of politics or differing views. Some people are oppressive, and other people are just trying to stand up for civil liberties.”
Not everyone was pleased with the protest. Nearby businesses said that they were missing out on business all day because students were scaring off potential customers.
Molly Schumacher, an employee at The Bunnery, was upset because she said that the protesters did not give her co-worker the chance to explain herself.
“She has mixed grandchildren,” Schumacher said. “One of her grandchildren is dating a black young lady, and she is proud, she is very proud.”
She acknowledges that her co-worker should have considered the historical context of her costume before wearing it to work, but maintains that she thinks she only had good intentions.
“I believe that she didn’t see it as offensive,” Schumacher said. “She has black family.”
Brendan DeLuca-Rodenberg, a sophomore journalism student at Flagler College, thinks protesting is not the most productive way to handle these types of issues.
“There are discussions that need to be had, but I don’t think standing in a group crowding people, preventing people from getting around, scaring people off—I don’t think that’s the answer,” he said. “If you could sit down and talk with people, you’d find a much more reasonable answer.”
Malone, the second student to go to The Bunnery, is a member of Black Lives Matter and Women’s March among other activist organizations. She wants to change the attitude towards black people in St. Augustine, starting with The Bunnery.
“I was offended because that’s the stereotype of a black woman—which I am,” Malone said. “That’s not okay.”
She mentioned St. Augustine’s sordid past and present with racial prejudice, noting the strong confederate undertones around town, police brutality throughout and beyond the civil rights movement and gentrification in Lincolnville.
“We are not going to be silenced,” Malone said. “We will not be complicit to this racism.”
The protest went from around 9:30 a.m. till about 4 p.m. when the owner came out and formally apologized to Malone, Olson, and the rest of the protesters.
The owner said that he wasn’t sensitive enough to realize that the use of blackface was wrong, and he apologized for not acting sooner.
Malone responded by saying that she wanted a guarantee that something like this would never happen again.
The crowd was mixed with people who were either completely against blackface, or people who thought the students were overreacting. Some had a hard time hearing the discussion between Malone and the owner because of all the shouting.
After the apology, the crowd dissipated. Since the end of the protest, the Facebook page of The Bunnery has issued an official statement concerning the blackface makeup and resulting protest.