Saint Louis Zoo Accused of Racially Insensitive Halloween Decorations

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Oof. Yeah, um. Yikes. - STL ZOO FACEBOOK PAGE
  • STL Zoo Facebook page
  • Oof. Yeah, um. Yikes.

Halloween is approaching quickly and the St. Louis Zoo is decked out for their "Boo at the Zoo" event for kids. They've got pumpkins, hay bales, graveyards, and even ghosts that fly from the trees.

"It's beginning to look a little spooky around here!" the zoo's Facebook account said yesterday, accompanied by a picture of the ghosts-in-tree display.

But things immediately took a bad turn in the comments.

"Are those slaves?" someone wrote.

Uh oh.

Zoo spokeswoman Susan Gallagher says the effigies' intended visual effect -- white robes floating on air -- is really only visible at night.

"They had dark faces because in the nighttime when the light was shined on them they were supposed to look like they're faceless," she explains.

But view the figures during the day (or, say, photograph them with one of their hoods fallen back) and they are unsettling:

OK, so, yeah that does not look great.

Some commenters defended the zoo:

I stood under them Sunday. They are constructed of light material that is easily moved by the slightest breeze. They look like flying ghosts suspended in mid air-just as they were meant to appear. Well done STL Zoo! Kids will LOVE the decorations!

. . . while others claimed the zoo's decorating committee is sadly lacking in cultural sensitivity:

The faces should NOT be black. You are missing the whole point!! To many Black people, it sends a subliminal msg...negroes hanging from a tree/lynching! Don't tell someone not to complain if you don't understand why they are complaining!

It seems like the photo the zoo posted was taken at a very unfortunate angle (the middle figure looks like it's hanging from its neck, but if we're not mistaken that's just the shadow of a tree branch). Here's another view from a photo taken by KMOV reporter Russell Kinsaul which gives a more ghostlike impression:

Whether this was an innocent visual miscommunication or just a really terrible idea through and though, the controversy in the comment section made it clear that the ghosts had to come down. Gallagher says they were removed yesterday after the park closed.

"It was a perception that was not unanimous by any means," she says. "But if anyone is concerned, we don't want them to be. So we took them down."

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