After a local news outlet drew attention to a pair of black pumpkins with eyes, nose and mouth painted in white at a law firm in Nyack, New York, and an NAACP leader declared black jack-o’-lanterns a form of “blackface,” national retail chain Bed Bath & Beyond pulled the product from shelves and its online store.
The controversy over the “blackface” jack-o’-lanterns all began with a report by Westchester’s News 12, which looked into some local “complaints” about a Halloween display in front a law firm in Nyack.
News 12’s reports shows that the two black pumpkins with white painted-on faces were perched on a hay bail on the front step of the firm along with a regular pumpkin.
Though jack-o’-lanterns have long come in all colors, including black, News 12 reports that the two black ones “upset some community members.”
“The reaction from some community members led the Feerick, Nugent, MacCartney Law Offices to take the pumpkins down less than 48 hours after setting them out on the porch,” the outlet reports. How many people complained is unclear.
The partners in the law firm stressed that they meant no harm in putting out the two Halloween decorations.
“We understand that someone complained about them, and so once we got word of that, we immediately took them down,” attorney Mary Marzolla told News 12.
“We represent people of all colors and faiths, and we would never do anything to exclude anyone from any community,” she said.
“It’s just nothing I take offense to personally, but since it did offend someone we took proactive steps to take it down,” said Marzolla’s associate Alak Shah.
But when News 12 asked the director of a local NAACP chapter about the decorations, he said they were a product of “extreme lack of sensitivity” and suggested that black jack-o’-lanterns were another form of “blackface.”
“By now I would believe everyone [would] know that anything in Black face is offensive,” said local NAACP Director Wilbur Aldridge.
In response to Marzolla and Shah pointing out that they had seen no complaints directed at Bed Bath & Beyond, where they purchased the two black jack-o’-lanterns, Aldridge said that a retail store having the item in its inventory is “equally as offensive” as the firm’s choice to display them.
When News 12 reached out for comment from Bed Bath & Beyond, the store apologized and “immediately” pulled the item.
“Bed Bath & Beyond apologized, saying that any offense was unintentional and that it ‘immediately removed’ the pumpkins from sale,” News 12 reports. “The store says it took action after News 12 reached out but would not say if it had received any other complaints.”
Controversies over “blackface” have been raging over the last year after a series of stories involving old photos of political figures wearing dark makeup.
The most infamous of the incidents involved Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam, who came under fire after an Eastern Virginia Medical School yearbook photo emerged allegedly showing Northam either wearing blackface or dressed as a member of the white supremacist Ku Klux Klan. Northam initially admitted to and apologized for being in the photo, but never confirmed which of the two people was him. He quickly recanted, however, and insisted that he was neither of the people in the photo.
A four-month investigation into the photo by the med school came up inconclusive. “No one we interviewed told us the governor was in the photograph, and no one could positively state who was in the photograph,” said the investigators hired by the school, as reported by The New York Times.