A 13-year-old girl is heartbroken and her classmates are bewildered after school officials yanked a winning artwork from a school contest after they feared it would be interpreted as racist.
According to the Statesman Journal, the Salem, Oregon girl's "Candyland-style" yearbook cover drawing was beloved by her peers and won by popular vote, but school officials turned it down because they say the depiction of a smiling black boy giving a piggy-back ride to a smiling white girl is offensive.
The artist, Auzeen Seiffert, who was 12 when she drew it, defended her work saying, "I see it as just two kids playing. Not two kids of color."
Even local art expert Mary Lou Zeek stood up for the artwork, saying, "I see nothing offensive in this drawing. I see it as free expression, which is what art is supposed to be. Poor girl, once you start shutting these children down, it's difficult to come back."
But school officials say that the drawing bears too much resemblance to "Little Black Sambo," a character from a 19th century book that has been condemned by some as racist. District officials and the school's principal did say that they're sure Auzeen had no ill intent but they're afraid it could still be offensive to some people in their community.
Principal Alicia Kruska said, "We just couldn't risk a negative reaction to something that should be memorable and positive for the students."
Benny C. Williams, president of the local NAACP chapter, supported the school district's decision, saying, "If the portrayal had been a black child and a white child holding hands, it'd be what we hope for, all children playing together. But given the stark colors now, it hearkens back to an uncomfortable time when blacks were depicted as subservient.