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Jana Hollingsworth, Forum Communications, Published November 22 2012

Racist video surfaces at University of Minnesota Duluth

DULUTH, Minn. - A video posted Wednesday on YouTube is the same one that the University of Minnesota Duluth alerted its campus to last week, describing it as a “video with unfortunate racist content,” the school’s student newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The video shows two white women in blackface speaking into a camera using racial epithets, stereotypes and expletives. It runs for roughly five minutes.

At a meeting earlier this week with the Duluth News Tribune, a university official said a former student and a current student were involved in the incident. Citing privacy laws, administrators declined to give identifying information or confirmation of any student discipline.

However, the UMD Statesman, the student newspaper, identified the women, using names that also appear on the YouTube posting. Neither woman returned calls for comment from the News Tribune on Wednesday.

According to the Statesman, the woman who online records show is currently enrolled at UMD explained the pair’s actions in an e-mail to the student newspaper.

“We were doing facials and it happened to have been a brown facial mask. We had to leave it on for 12 minutes. During that 12 minutes, we horribly decided to make a video that we regret and are not happy about. This was made over a year ago,” the newspaper quoted her as saying.

“I am saddened and sick to my stomach and sorry for anybody it offends. It was not mine or hers intention at all and we are embarrassed about it. We understand we cannot do anything about it now but apologize and inform people we did not paint our faces or put that on to purposely make a video. It was something that just happened after putting the facial cream on and we are so deeply sorry. This video does not define our true selves at all.”

The Statesman said the other woman also responded, writing: “That video does not define who we are … it was accidental … we did not intend to hurt anyone with it.”

The newspaper reported the second woman saying she has received threats and hate mail because of the video.

The video on YouTube is titled “minstrel blackface.” The poster, UMDHate, asked that it be shared to “spread awareness,” citing the makers’ “poor judgment in creating a racially charged, hurtful video.”

YouTube user Sierra Kamatchus wrote: “This video is completely unacceptable and I am thoroughly humiliated for the both of you. I hope you will be severely punished for this and someday realize the irrationality of this video. Way to bring negative attention to UMD.”

A YouTube user identified as “Giggleblaggle” wrote that the video is unacceptable, but it doesn’t reveal the true context.

“I’m guessing these girls made this video for fun and never intended to share it with anyone except maybe a few friends of theirs. If that’s the case, then it’s fine. People are racist behind closed doors. That’s real life, get over it.”

Marty Weintraub, a co-owner of Duluth internet marketing agency aimClear, described the video as “hurtful racism” that will likely ruin the lives of the two women involved.

“Kids do things,” he said. “But in the age we live in, it all gets memorialized.”

Weintraub said the video not only hurts the reputation of the girls.

“This will have an effect on the perceptions of Duluth and the university community,” Weintraub said. “It’s inexplicable. It’s not art. It’s not commentary. There is no value to it at all.”

UMD sent a campuswide e-mail Nov. 15 after the video was brought to the administration’s attention through its online reporting system, said its human resources director, Judith Karon.

She said the university followed up on the incident, which reportedly happened off campus, and that the proper steps had been taken to address it.

“There were a few people who heard about it, so we issued a statement,” she said.

“We have seen the video; we abhor it,” the e-mail statement reads. “This is unacceptable behavior for anyone, and we at UMD are extremely unhappy to be associated with it in any way.”

The statement goes on: “We take appropriate action in instances like this, but information about individual students is private, and UMD cannot share any information about any particular student. We hope that out of this distressing incident will at least come some broader understanding and personal growth.”

UMD has worked to unite its campus in the wake of a 2010 incident involving racial epithets aimed at a black student written publicly on Facebook by white students. Part of its new strategic plan called for creating a more inclusive environment, and the university became a partner in the controversial Un-Fair Campaign meant to promote racial equality by calling attention to white privilege. It dropped its support this summer when it said the campaign had become too divisive.

Duluth News Tribune staffers Robin Washington and Mike Creger contributed to this report.