Monday, August 15, 2022

Update: Deputy’s blackface Halloween costume causes backlash for York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office

Update 8:12 p.m. Wednesday: Following a York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office press conference Wednesday evening, a deputy will be reassigned to a different role in the department — and will no longer serve as a school D.A.R.E. officer — for wearing a blackface costume on Halloween.

Deputy Jean Browning will return to her previous role at the York County Courthouse. Sheriff J.D. “Danny” Diggs declined to refer to the action as disciplinary, and said, “the intent did not rise to the level of termination.”

Instead, Diggs said Browning’s move to another position was a “corrective” action.

The sheriff’s office came under scrutiny Wednesday after a local NAACP branch released a statement condemning Browning’s costume choice.

Photos of Browning dressed in blackface, portraying Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, surfaced on social media after Halloween.

Browning has been a deputy for 20 years and a D.A.R.E. officer for a decade, with nine letters of commendation in her file. Diggs said Browning expressed remorse over her actions, and had no intent to degrade the Florida congresswoman.

“Deputy Browning’s intent was simply to portray Wilson as a political celebrity,” Diggs said.

Jean Browning, second from the left, is facing backlash for her Halloween costume. (Courtesy York-James City-Williamsburg Branch of the NAACP)
Jean Browning, second from the left, is facing backlash for her Halloween costume. (Courtesy York-James City-Williamsburg Branch of the NAACP)

“Browning’s boyfriend was in a costume portraying Donald Trump,” Diggs continues. “The combined intent of the couple was to convey the message of how funny it would be for two political figures that were at odds with each other to go to a party together.”

Diggs said the sheriff’s office met Nov. 6 with the York-James City-Williamsburg branch of the NAACP about the Halloween incident. Diggs said he was surprised the NAACP press release was released Wednesday, and anticipated another meeting with them in the near future.

Diggs said he thought the NAACP was agreeable to working together to arrange sensitivity training at the sheriff’s office, but added that may be more difficult in the future.

Original 7 p.m. Wednesday: The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office is addressing concerns after a sheriff’s deputy dressed in a “blackface” Halloween costume Oct. 31.

The York-James City-Williamsburg branch of the NAACP sent out a statement Wednesday.

According to the NAACP, Deputy Jean Browning, an instructor for the York County School Division’s Drug Abuse Resistance Education program, dressed up for Halloween as Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson.

In photos, Browning is tagged in a Facebook photo next to a person dressed in a costume resembling President Donald Trump.

YPSO Deputy Jean Browning was tagged in a Facebook photo, in which she was dressed as Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. (Courtesy York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP Branch)
YPSO Deputy Jean Browning was tagged in a Facebook photo after Halloween, in which she was dressed as Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson. (Courtesy York-James City-Williamsburg NAACP Branch)

“For decades, blackface has been synonymous with hate, degradation, and bigotry,” the statement said. “Originally, white actors wore tattered and worn clothing, applied burnt cork to blacken their skin, and used soot to create the appearance of wider, fuller lips to imitate the appearance of African Americans.”

The statement says while performers profited from blackface by “mocking black behavior and culture and promoting false stereotypes that African Americans were lazy, destitute, and unintelligible.”

The NAACP met with York County officials Nov. 6 to discuss the incident, resulting in a consensus that the deputy’s choice to dress “in blackface” was “wholly inappropriate and completely unacceptable.”

The NAACP statement said it became clear in the meeting that no disciplinary action would be taken against Browning.

“However, it is the Branch’s position that blackface in and of itself should be enough to warrant disciplinary action,” the statement said.

The statement also said Browning’s conduct contradicts the DARE program’s goal by mocking members of the York County community.

“York County is a culturally and racially diverse area, and should seek inclusivity of all community members rather than division,” the statement said. “It is inappropriate and disheartening when anyone mocks someone’s race, but it is inexcusable when someone connected with our law enforcement finds it acceptable to paint their face to impersonate African-Americans.”

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