Friday, June 08, 2007

Setting some things straight: Racism in Riverdale?


The community of Riverdale is 22 mi. south of Fresno near the border of the county line making more identifiable with Kings County as only 14 mi from Lemoore. According to the 2000 Census, the community has a total black population of 30. In the neighboring communities of Laton, Helm and Caruthers there are 29 blacks combined. Even Easton, which is considered an extension of West Fresno (not the historical ‘Golden Westside’ of Fresno County that includes all of western Fresno County), has only 12 blacks in that community. Many of the black students that attend Washington Union High School, live just outside of the City of Fresno's sphere of influence and feed into that school district. If there are only 11 students in Riverdale Unified School District according the District’s Accountability Report, it’s likely that Academy (their demography information is publicly accessible since it’s a private school) has a few if any black students in attendance there.

The principal in the CBS-Channel 47 (View News Interview) stated that these were jokes and the skit was pointed to make fun of the students. That was the exact purpose of Blackface: to get a good laugh at the expense of blacks. How does whites painted to portray black slaves jest white and Hispanic students? The bigger question is would the same skits and characters if they had black students or black families in attendance? Hopefully, no. But their embarrassment demonstrates that they knew it was inappropriate and that that why the picture have been removed and the school site is ‘temporarily down’.

Does the presence of ethnic minorities diminish the opportunities for racism and prejudice?

No. In many southern states, there were (and still are) large percentages of blacks and Latinos but were home to the some of the most legally and socially segregated communities. Jim Crow started in the South it an effort to control the lives of the many blacks there.

The community can’t be racist because they have a large Hispanic/Latino population.

What? Have you been in Tulare County where they little to no Hispanics elected to County offices though they constitute roughly 50-60% of the population? By the way, the school is not 51% Hispanic, that's the ethnic composition of the community itself. The has approximately 40 Hispanic students (30.8%), which really irrelevant to practices.

My Riverdale Knowledge

I have been to Riverdale a few times, in high school and college because I had black friends whose family that lived there and still do. I even had an opportunity to visit Boro Farms that is headquartered in the community.

Assemblies of God & Church of God in Christ

Let me make this clear—this is not an attack on the denomination. However, given the historical background of that body that broke off its affiliation to a black-led organization due to racial tension; it is an action that must be dealt with to further the reconciliation process. Also, for setting the facts straight, I have reference several sources including Oral Robert University that note the historical separation and recent deliberate reconciliation process between the two church organizations

Assemblies of God- Wikipedia

The Assemblies of God, or A/G for short, was founded in 1914 at Hot Springs, Arkansas. The early founders were licensed white ministers of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African-American Pentecostal body founded by Charles Harrison Mason in 1897 [4]. Their affiliation with the Church of God in Christ was short-lived due to the racial climate of the Jim Crow Era in the United States. Subsequently, predominantly white representatives from 20 states and a few foreign countries gathered to form a fellowship of Pentecostal believers. A fellowship emerged that was incorporated as the General Council of the Assemblies of God. E. N. (Eudorus Neander) Bell (1866-1923) was elected the first chairman. Central Bible College was started in the basement of the Central Assembly of God church in Springfield, Missouri in 1922.

Oral Roberts University. “The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement”

“Since many white pastors had formerly been part of Mason's church [Mason was the founder of Church of God in Christ], the beginnings of the Assemblies of God was also partially a racial separation. In time the Assemblies of God church was destined to become the largest Pentecostal denominational church in the world, claiming by 1993 over 2,000,000 members in the U.S. and some 25,000,000 adherents in 150 nations of the world.”

A/G and COGIC rebuilding relationships- Charisma Magazine

COGIC historical dateline-


There is truth in some comments that what was demonstrated was not blackface is its true or original form. Yet, if one looks back at the historical content of the practice, its purpose and its targeted audience you will find all of those elements present in the Riverdale incident.

Expert from “The Guardian”:,,1878318,00.html

Blackface is "a form of racist caricature invented by white Americans in the minstrel-show days of the 1800s," says American academic John Strausbaugh in his book, Black Like You. Blackface minstrelsy became one of the US's most popular musical styles. In this white imitation of black characters black people were portrayed as stupid, superstitious, lying, lazy and lascivious. By the late 19th century, minstrel shows regularly featured black performers - but they continued to black themselves up in darker hues for their white audiences.

"It was a deliberate attempt to suggest that black people had no humanity," says Caryl Phillips, whose latest novel, Dancing in the Dark, looks at the life of Bert Williams, a light-skinned Antiguan-born black man who became America's highest paid entertainer by blacking himself up and playing a dim-witted funnyman.

Other Resources

Yellow Face

Bamboozled, A Spike Lee movie

John Strausbaugh .Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult & Imitation in American Popular Culture

Overall Thoughts

Yes, we are American have freedom of expression—to the laws limit. People can say and do what they want but its not without consequence. I am especially disappointed about this situation for three reasons:

(1) While a private school, it is still an educational institution. What examples, images or messages did the faculty, staff, church leadership send to those students, who already have few opportunities given the area's demographic, about black Americans?

(2) Whether one is Christian or not (am I and a member of Church of God in Christ), in general, we as a society hold churches as moral-teaching institutions. What morals were taught that allowed such practices to take place at an event purposed on celebrating the accomplishment of young men and women completing one phase of the educational careers?

(3) How do these images affect the way, we as a community-- the Central Valley viewed internally and externally? Obviously, the images have been distributed across the country within a short of time (this event happened just last week) and made their way back to the Valley. Now what are we going to do about it? Are we willing to face the issue or do we continue to sweep such situations under the race rug? Time will tell.


Rachel's Tavern said...

Tate, Keep up the good work. I read the other threads, and I sent some people from the sites I post on over here to counteract these racist folks who are trying to take over your site.

I think the principal's comment on the local TV station speaks volumes about the "skit." This was part of a graduation party. What does graduation have to do with slavery? Can any of your racism apologists please tell me the connection. Then the principal went on to say that the purpose of this skit was to roast the graduates and poke fun at some of their mannerisms.

How the hell does invoking slavery do that?

I'm going to repost this in the other threads, but I wanted to put it here so it didn't get lost.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Keep Up the good work, It is so sad that in this day in age this kind of racial ignorance still occur. I believe it is a sad day for everyone when this type of behavior is looked upon as a joke or entertainment for others. I believe church and especially a christian School should have higher moral grounds and common sence than to condone these types of actions. I believe the School and all those involved owe the community an explanation and an apology.

Anonymous said...

So here we are. Sunday night... all the good Christians went to church today and the noble Bro. Tate probably received several pats on the shoulder from well meaning members as if to say “Good job! You really showed that predominantly white church how they should respect the black community and how their ignorance is beyond words. We shall speak about this matter at lunch today after church!"
Graduation Celebration. That's what it's called. It's a high school roast that takes place at RCC usually a week after graduation. Themes have varied from the wild wild west to 50's hot rod era.
While I did not attend this particular grad cell... I have attended others, after all, I'm an alumni. The theme of the grad cell in question was one of Civil War Era...NOT a slavery theme. There were slaves portrayed in the skits because, well there were slaves in that era. How can you begin to tell the story of the civil war era without slaves? They were just a part of that point in history. I figured a well educated man like Bro. Tate could see that. After all, he was there to see with his own eyes along with the other self rightous bloggers on this site. I mean having attended the grad cell they could have seen that the pics were taken out of context and twisted to reveal the bitterness of one man.
There, I said it. Bitterness. Tate seems to be so engulfed in this story of RACE, that any point he is trying to make becomes overshadowed.
True, it was naive of Riverdale to paint themselves black in an over offended society with little Sharptons running around scraping for every bit of attention they can bring themselves to further their own agenda. I would say that this choice of theme was, in fact, the wrong one.
HOWEVER, the attention this story is receiving due to one man whose quality of life was disrupted because he got offend over a graduation roast a week old is ridiculous! Why did Tate portray the black community as receiving a setback, portray himself as some high and mighty beacon of anti racism when he proceeds to relish on the unfounded fact that the Assemblies of God may have had some racial tension in the far past. " You know, I don't mean to point the finger at that predominately white denomination and say that they are all racists...but my bitterness is getting the best of me and so I must say that in 1914 at Hot Springs, Arkansas... blah,blah,blah."
And so I must ask, since you(you know who you are) where so offended, why did you go to 47 and not man up and go directly to Rev. Charles Spencer and calmly discuss the situation. And if you did, blog it!
Don't like what I'm saying? Email me at

Trouble said...

I cannot freaking believe that anyone would be so incredibly ignorant in this day and age.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen this?

"A company that provides translation services and cultural sensitivity training to other organizations is being accused of sex discrimination and racial insensitivity in its own ranks."

"To bolster her discrimination complaint with the state, Kelly included photos allegedly showing the company's top two human resources executives dressed up for the 2005 corporate Halloween party as a black pimp and a white prostitute. The "pimp," a white woman wearing blackface and sporting a fake gold tooth, won the prize for best costume, the complaint said."