The Observer has obtained photos of Tami Tobey, a member of the Midlothian ISD Board of Trustees, dressed in blackface. Tobey confirmed her identity in the photographs via email.
“Regrettably, yes, the person pictured here is me,” she wrote to the Observer.
In addition to serving on the school board, Tobey is an active volunteer and helps run several community clubs. She also manages a Midlothian State Farm Insurance branch and owns a farmhouse home décor store, E.T. Tobey Co.
The pictures depict Tobey at a private Halloween party in 2012, where she and an unidentified white woman dressed as tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. The Observer received the photographs from an anonymous source.
In the photos, Tobey beams at the camera while clutching a tennis racket. She wears athletic clothing, fake cornrows and lip liner to exaggerate the size and shape of her mouth. In addition to her face, she appears to have darkened her hands, ears and neck.
During a brief phone call, Tobey acknowledged dressing as a maid from the movie.
“I don’t recall that we did any blackface, but yeah, there was a whole group of women and we went as The Help," she said. “But I don’t even remember what character I was, to be honest with you.”
Midlothian’s population is 87% white and 6.1% black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Its City Council is composed of six white men.
The town’s school board also consists of seven non-black members. Still, according to its website, Midlothian ISD believes in “celebrating the power of diversity.”
After learning of the photos, Midlothian’s board of trustees was “disheartened,” board President Matt Sanders said in an email. The group will soon schedule a closed session meeting to discuss the issue, he added.
“This is not representative of the Midlothian ISD Board of Trustees nor the Midlothian Independent School District where we are proud of our strong values by providing a safe and caring learning environment,” he wrote.
Tobey is running for reelection for her position on the school board, according to her website. It is unclear whether she will issue a public apology, but Tobey expressed remorse in an email to the Observer.
“Halloween is for emulating people you admire whether that’s people in entertainment, sports figures, or other well-known individuals,” she wrote. “Looking back on this now, I should not have dressed in a way that is offensive to others, regardless of my intent. I am genuinely remorseful for the choice I made, and I apologize to anyone I have offended.”
Why is blackface considered racist?
In the United States, blackface is — and always was — racist, according to an article on History.com. Its popularity peaked after emancipated slaves began petitioning for civil rights, which angered white supremacists. White actors donned blackface in minstrel shows, exaggerating their features and mannerisms to mock African Americans as lazy, stupid, violent and hypersexual.
For instance, white actors darkened their skin to portray black people as crazed rapists in the 1915 racist propaganda film The Birth of a Nation. The movie was subsequently used as a “recruiting tool” for the modern Ku Klux Klan movement.
That’s why it’s unacceptable to wear blackface today, said Mia Moody-Ramirez, a professor and chair of the Department of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University.
“That’s what people think about when they see people dressed in blackface: They think about the historical connotations of those types of costumes,” she said.
Moody-Ramirez, who also holds a doctorate in journalism, said most people today understand that blackface is hurtful to people of color. Certain social movements, like Ohio University’s 2011 poster campaign “We’re a Culture, Not a Costume,” seek to raise awareness about why some Halloween costumes are insulting.
If a person is unsure whether their costume is racially insensitive, they should look online for a comprehensive list of do’s and don’ts, Moody-Ramirez said.
“There’s definitely information available," she said.
Before attending a costume party, one should always ask themselves whether their attire would offend a person of color, she added. Blackface is always a no-go.
“If [Tobey] came to my door dressed like that, as an African-American woman I would have been offended,” Moody-Ramirez said. “I don’t know her; I don’t know her personality. So I might think she’s making fun of black people."