Posted on February 8, 2019

A New Project Will Have Black College Students Look for Racist Imagery in Politicians’ Yearbooks

Rebecca Onion, Slate, Feb 8, 2019

Here’s a unique idea spawned by the blackface scandals in Virginia this week: A group of activists from Richmond has put together a GoFundMe to pay students from historically black colleges and universities to go through yearbooks and look for evidence of “racist behavior and imagery” on the pages of present-day Virginia state officials and candidates for public office. Community organizer Chelsea Higgs Wise and another activist, Bob Bland, had the idea for this project on Monday; as of Friday morning, the GoFundMe had raised about $6,000 of its $10,000 goal.

{snip} This GoFundMe, sponsored by a group on the other end of the political spectrum, looks to systematize this kind of grassroots research into politicians’ backgrounds. The researchers plan to start with state-level elected officials in Virginia — those that are facing re-election in 2019 or 2020, as well as those that community members flag as possibly having (as Wise put it in a phone call) “the kind of implicit bias that could be shown through their yearbooks.”

{snip} As my colleague Lili Loofborouw argued in Slate on Thursday: “What a yearbook page can tell us is how someone sought to strategically situate themselves in their network. … Yearbooks are as aspirational as they are commemorative.”


The project proposes to pay the student researchers $25 an hour — a very fair wage — and to offer them guidance from trained archival professionals as they do their work, so that they can learn on the job. (At that rate, a $10,000 budget would pay for 400 hours of research.) This topic “relates to something going on that [students are] interested in,” Wise said. “They can connect how they’re in college right now, looking at other colleges from decades ago, and maybe even point out what’s going on right now in their schools that could be seen as a racist narrative in 20 or 30 years.”