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Editor Apologizes for Yearbook Photo in Expose on Blackface

When Nicole Carroll authorized a story on blackface photos and other racist imagery in yearbooks, she probably assumed it would have an illuminating impact on her newspaper’s readership. She probably didn’t realize that she herself would end up in the spotlight. But that’s exactly what happened.

Carroll is the editor in chief of USA TODAY. As part of its coverage of the scandal involving pictures of Virginia governor Ralph Northam in blackface, several journalists did an extensive review of more than 900 yearbooks from the same time period as Northam’s. One of the many pictures with similar racist imagery was the 1988-89 yearbook from Arizona State University, Carroll’s alma mater, which she also edited.

The news daily was forced to run a letter of apology from Carroll, which included this excerpt:

The 1988-89 yearbook I edited at Arizona State University included a photo of two people at a Halloween party dressed as Mike Tyson and Robin Givens. It is horrible, and of course the photo should not have been published. Clearly the 21-year-old me who oversaw the book and that page didn’t understand how offensive the photo was. I wish I had. Today’s 51-year-old me of course understands and is crushed by this mistake.

In a companion story explaining the methodology of the expose, journalists at USA Today summarized their work saying:

We found questionable photos virtually everywhere we looked – what amounted to a montage of everyday, casual bigotry memorialized among pages that captured daily life on campuses.

We understand that, for many people, these images will be painful reminders of the racism and mockery they have experienced. We decided, however, that publishing them was necessary, to show their pervasiveness, to avoid diluting their impact and to be as transparent as possible about what we found.

Nicole Carroll, “I became part of our story on racist images in college yearbooks,” USA Today (2-20-19)

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