A teacher in Iowa has apologized for wearing blackface as part of her costume for a Halloween party, claiming she had never heard of the practice before.
Megan Luloff, 32, went to a holiday party at the Walcott American Legion on Oct. 19 dressed as part of a group costume that saw all participating members don outfits to resemble characters from the movie “Napoleon Dynamite.”
Luloff, who is white, apparently went as LaFawnduh Lucas-Dynamite, a character portrayed by actress Shondrella Avery, who is black.
Luloff was photographed wearing a leopard shirt and white pants, with her face, arms and feet were covered in dark makeup to make her appear black. Her costume quickly came under fire by many, including by school administrators.
“The wearing of blackface is never appropriate in any circumstance by any person,” Superintendent Art Tate said in an email to the Quad-City Times. “The issue is under investigation by the district.”
Luloff, who teaches first grade at Walcott Elementary School, claimed she was unaware that she had done something offensive, as she had never heard of blackface before.
“Megan used a dark foundation to enhance her pigmentation to create the likeness of Lafawndah,” Luloff’s attorney, Catherine Cartee, said in a statement to InsideEdition.com. “At no point during her preparation for the party, or her participation at the event, did Megan ever intend to mock the character’s ethnicity or take any action intended to be offensive to anyone.”
Cartee said Luloff had never before heard the term “blackface,” nor was she aware of the history of the practice.
“If she had that knowledge she never would have participated in such a way that she deeply regrets her actions,” Cartee said. “After hearing and understanding what blackface is/was, Megan immediately understood the anger and outrage at this photo. She immediately took responsibility for her actions and participated fully in the district’s investigation.”
Cartee said Luloff has a child with albinism and drew parallels to what those living with the disorder experience to people offended by blackface.
“She knows how hurtful and damaging it can be when you think someone is mocking your appearance,” Cartee said. “Throughout history, people affected by albinism have been humiliated, mocked, sent away from their families, worst of all beaten and thought of as ‘witch craft.’ The history associated with albinism is not one that many are familiar with, but because of personal experience Megan certainly is. Unfortunately, this is a personal experience and knowledge that she did not have at the time with regard to blackface.”
But ignorance to the practice does not soften the blow for many people of color who have come to regard blackface as a sign of danger, advocates said.
“Depictions like these deliver messages of fear and trauma, evoking images from another movie: the racially propagandized 1915 movie ‘Birth of a Nation,’ in which black people are criminalized, humiliated, and lynched,” Betty C. Andrews, president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP Conference of Branches, told the Quad-City Times. “With every stroke of her makeup puff she had the opportunity to rethink her decision to show up like this, to measure it in the context of history. She didn't."
Luloff has worked in the district for 10 years and with families and students of “all race and ethnicities” and has loved and treated each child like her own, never seeing color “as a distinguishing characteristic between her students,” her attorney said.
“Megan’s heart is broken for the families she has let down,” Cartee said. “She will be eternally sorry to her lapse in judgement and will have to live with this forever. However, Megan also intends to use this incident as a learning tool for the future. She will use this experience to help herself and others be more aware and sensitive to cultural diversity and history. Megan only hopes that her experiences and lack of education on this topic will help others understand and avoid the same mistakes in the future.”