New details in ongoing cultural appropriation investigation revealed

Holly O’Neil dresses and performs as Michael Jackson at a Halloween party hosted by the English department. The Washburn Review received the photo from an anonymous source.

The Washburn Review received the attached video and photo following the publication of this article.

Holly O’Neil, associate professor of chemistry and interim assistant dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is still under review for allegations of practicing cultural appropriation at a Halloween party.

O’Neil has also been accused of doing blackface, but this has not yet been confirmed. Some say her skin looked darker during her reenactment of “Thriller”, which could have been due to the lighting of the room. Others say that O’Neil had simply worn makeup to look like a zombie as singer Michael Jackson did in his music video “Thriller.”

Blackface, according to Merriam-Webster, is “dark makeup worn to mimic the appearance of a Black person and especially to mock or ridicule Black people.” This style of makeup began in the 1830s as white people would perform and “act” as Black people in minstrel shows. These performances would include songs, dances, tall tales and comedies. Minstrel shows presented false caricatures of Black people and perpetuated stereotypes.

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Black people were depicted in these shows as ignorant, lazy cowards.

Though blackface may not be practiced using heavy black paint like in the 1830s, it is still prevalent today. Many celebrities and persons of influence, such as singer Arianna Grande, actor Robert Downey Jr., dancer Julianne Hough and more have used makeup to darken their skin tones for beauty, acting roles and costumes.

For many years, Black people have been ridiculed, judged and harmed for the color of their skin. According to History, in 1915, a movie titled “Birth of a Nation” was released and depicted a white man in blackface being lynched. This caused the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the lynchings of over 100 Black people.

Whether intentional or not, blackface can be seen as a serious and unwelcome practice in any way, shape or form.

These allegations are being investigated, as there is a photo and video of O’Neil during the performance. The Review received both the photo and a video of O’Neil on the night of the incident, following the publication of this article.

The faculty and staff involved in the incident have not released any new information, but The Review will continue to release content surrounding the event as new information is made available. Check for more updates.

Edited by Glorianna Noland

Updated 11/03/22 at 11:58 p.m. CST