Oregon School Staffer Protests Vax Mandate, Human Decency, As Blackface Rosa Parks
Lauren Pefferle, a special education assistant at Mabel Rush Elementary in Newberg, Oregon, came to work Friday in Blackface. No, it's not yet Halloween at Megyn Kelly's house. Pefferle was protesting the school district's mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy, so she darkened her skin with iodine and called herself Rosa Parks, presumably because she believes the civil rights icon is best known for her opposition to vaccine mandates.
Yes, this actually happened.
Pefferle was removed from school grounds and placed on administrative leave. This is in no way similar to how Rosa Parks was removed from a city bus and arrested because she refused to give up her seat to some lazy white asshole.
The 41-year-old Pefferle reportedly told another staff member that her anti-vaccine minstrel act was just like Parks's protest against racial segregation. It's uncertain if Pefferle's “homage" to Parks extended beyond darkening her face. Did she also wear period appropriate clothing and carry around bus-related props? But if the point was to insult Parks's memory and struggle, she wins the prize.
The school district released this statement, which opens with a sentence you don't expect to read in 2021 unless you've been paying attention.
Last Friday, one of our employees reported for work in Blackface. The employee was removed from the location, and HR has placed the employee on administrative leave. The administration of Newberg Public Schools condemns all expressions of racism.
It is important to remember how Blackface has been used to misrepresent Black communities and do harm. We acknowledge the violence this represents and the trauma it evokes regardless of intention.
Pefferle has worked at another school in the Newberg district, but there were no reported Blackface incidents. The recent public health measures have apparently radicalized her. She seems to fit the stereotype of a West Coast anti-vaxxer nutcase. From 2014 to 2016, she ran a restaurant in Beaverton, Oregon, called the Clean Cafe, and under the circumstances, this reminds me of the "Mork & Mindy" episode where Mork joins a "Clean Up Boulder" committee that turns out to be the Klan.
In a Facebook hostage video promoting the establishment, Pefferle said, “The Clean Cafe desires to serve tasty food free of gluten, dairy, soy, corn, eggs, peanuts, and cane sugar, as well as organic or raw options." Then she just stood up and abandoned her seat like a quitter.
Seemingly grief-stricken, Newberg Public Schools Superintendent Joe Morelock said:
If we had the power to entirely eliminate deep-seated racism, we would in a heartbeat. But the painful truth is that clearly, racist behavior exists in our town, in our state, and our world—not just in the major and overt ways we've seen recently, but in subtle ways that affect people of color every single day. We must interrupt and respond; we must do better.
Unfortunately, Pefferle's Blackface number isn't an isolated racist incident. Newberg has all sorts of problems. Last week, according to the Newberg Graphic, at least one student at Newberg High School participated in a Snapchat group called “Slave Trade," where stupid white teenagers from across the country shared bigoted messages, many of which specifically targeted Black students.
"They can run but they can't hide," the Newberg student, who is White but whose name will not be identified in this story, wrote in the Slave Trade group about two of his Black classmates after posting their photo. "100$ each. They like picking cotton."
"I'll take them for 150 as the pair," another member of the group replied.
"All blacks should die," another wrote. "Let's have another holocaust."
This is fucked up even for the Jim Crow South, which Yamhill County Commissioner Mary Starrett (Newberg is in Yamhill County) recently compared to vaccine verification. White people have appropriated Black culture and now they want our historical oppression. Conservatives resent that the 1619 Project claims slavery and racial discrimination are key factors in the nation's development, but they rarely make comparisons to British tyranny when throwing their temper tantrums. Even the recent conservative Tea Party just turned outright racist. They were hanging Barack Obama in effigy not Prince Charles.
Superintendent Morelock also clarified in the same anti-Blackface statement that grotesque references to the slave trade are also unacceptable. But it seems unlikely that Newberg will “do better." The Newberg school board voted to ban “controversial" political symbols such as Black Lives Matter signs and LGBTQ pride flags, which are only “controversial" if you're a racist bigot.
I leave you with this video of the actual Rosa Parks discussing the actual oppression she endured and valiantly defied.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."