Cover photo of the “Deli” from Google Maps
Print editor-in-chief Griffin Quinn contributed to this report
This article was written before the suspension of in-person classes and closure of housing for most students due to the coronavirus.
Local news network WHIO reported on Feb. 26 that the Lowes Street Deli – known to University of Dayton students as “The Deli” – was displaying a photo of a student in apparent blackface. The Deli is a longtime privately-owned store that is unaffiliated with UD but that is within the South Student Neighborhood. It mostly sells alcohol.
In the news segment, a female employee of the store – known to UD students as Jan – said she wouldn’t remove the photo because it was oil on the individual’s face and that he was a mechanic.
UD’s Black Action Through Unity (BATU), which spearheaded the efforts to get the Deli to remove the photo, announced on its Instagram on March 1 that the photo in question had been removed.
While this seems like a store responding to student demands, interviews with students who were involved reveal that issues with the Lowes Street business are more far-reaching than a supposed photo of a student in blackface.
For instance, a white male senior who unintentionally initiated the effort to remove the photo in question said there was at least one other photo that appeared to show a student in blackface in the store. Both were displayed on a wall of photos with past UD students. A friend of his, who is black, pointed them out to him last year.
The other photo, the senior said, “clearly” showed a UD student dressed in blackface as the character Bubba from the movie “Forrest Gump.”
The senior was a regular at the Deli despite some incidents that were unrelated to the alleged blackface photo. He described Jan as “in general an unpleasant person.” He also said Jan has made “flirtatious comments to [his] roommates” and once kissed his roommate on the cheek and left lipstick.
He’s not the only person who feels this way about the Deli in general. A Google reviewer for the store wrote nine months ago: “Every time I’ve gone here the owner has been extremely rude. Very negative atmosphere. Would not recommend buying your alcohol from here as the owner will only make you uncomfortable….”
Flyer News visited the Deli to ask about these comments, as well as the apparent blackface photos, but Jan said she didn’t want to talk to the media.
In January, the white male senior was in the Deli when he decided to ask Jan about why the photos appearing to show students in blackface were displayed.
“If I’m the one noticing this and giving this woman business, I might as well ask about it,” he said.
So he did.
He said she came from behind the counter and put her finger on his chest, asking, “Are you turning black on me?”
He also said that she told him the photo that has since been removed was of a Halloween costume and that it was racist of him to assume the costume was racist.
She then refused the senior service and told him to never come back.
The senior told people about this encounter, and it made its way to university officials and Gabe Gaiusbayode, a junior mechanical engineering major and president of BATU.
Gaiusbayode and Maleah Wells, a sophomore history major and BATU board member, visited the Deli to confirm what they heard. They said they weren’t aware of other photos appearing to show students in blackface besides the one that was removed.
Gaiusbayode said he does not believe Jan’s excuse that the photo was of a mechanic.
“A mechanic does not look like that,” he said. “A mechanic does not cover brown all over his face.”
Wells explained the history of blackface.
“After the Civil War, blackface was basically used to help dehumanize and justify violence against black bodies,” she said.
She pointed to the 1915 film “The Birth of a Nation,” which was a blockbuster that’s associated with the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan, that shows white actors in blackface as “unscrupulous and rapists.” The film portrays the white supremacist hate group as saviors of a post-Civil War South.
While Gaiusbayode and Wells were in the Deli, they also noticed a sign with UD’s logo on it that reads “Beer Tastes Better in the Ghetto.” The “ghetto” is how many UD students refer to the South Student Neighborhood. It predates the term student neighborhood, but its usage has been criticized since it denotes an impoverished urban area and was used to describe a part of a city that Jews were segregated in during the Holocaust.
“I…have a problem with the idea of students finding parallels between the idea of a place to have fun and to party with what a ghetto is,” Wells said. “If you were to go to a Holocaust survivor or people who have experienced this and lived this in everyday life, how do you explain that to someone who lives through that?”
While the apparent blackface photo appears to have been taken down voluntarily, the sign is still up. Gaiusbayode and Wells said they believe the university can force the Deli to remove the sign since it has UD’s logo on it.
University officials told Flyer News they were aware of BATU’s concern and were evaluating what to do regarding the sign.
After their visit to the Deli, Gaiusbayode and Wells said that William Fischer, vice president for Student Development, also went to the Deli to ask that the photo be removed. Flyer News reached out to Fischer for a comment, and university officials responded with a statement that they also gave to WHIO.
The statement essentially says that university employees asked the store to consider removing it, but that the private store, which is unaffiliated with UD, can leave it up if it wishes.
Gaiusbayode said students should consider what they’re supporting if they buy from the Deli.
“You are supporting an establishment that is against what the community of UD represents,” he said. “You know? If we represent the common good for all students, supporting this store that doesn’t represent the common good of all students – that represents us going backward as a university – how can you stand for that?”
Wells added: “This is not a black versus white issue. It is a UD community versus a racist establishment [issue].”