Sometimes, what constitutes racism is obvious. Other times, it’s murkier.
One thing is clear: Brad Breakell, owner of PizzalChik, 7330 W. State St., genuinely regrets painting his face black in a video on the restaurant’s Facebook page, triggering an online uproar.
He also clearly deserves to be forgiven.
“I am SO sorry if I have offended anybody,” Breakell said in an apology posted Monday, his voice filled with emotion. “... This is not who I am.”
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The Facebook controversy started after Breakell created a video promoting the menu of PizzalChik, a family-operated restaurant that has served “peace, love, music and pizza” since 2004.
From time to time, Breakell posts videos, often dressing as silly characters.
Breakell’s latest skit — which has since been removed — was an attempt to play off Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” and a “Planet Shark” display at the Discovery Center of Idaho. Breakell donned a cardboard cutout of a shark’s body on his head. To make his face disappear inside the shark’s mouth, he painted his face black. To match the shark’s upper lip, Breakell painted his own lower lip red.
The result? Something that resembled blackface — albeit inside a shark’s mouth. Breakell, who immigrated to the United States from Canada in the 1990s, also spoke using a goofy, Julia Child-style voice. Multiple Facebook commenters thought he called his character Chocolate John in the video. Breakell actually was saying Jacqueline Jaws.
By Monday morning, the shark video was blazing across Facebook. Last I checked, it had been watched 30,000 times. PizzalChik was accused of racism. Many comments were as blistering as the pies that come out of the restaurant’s pizza oven. Others defended the video.
I’m not a personal friend of Breakell’s. But I feel like I know him. I’ve eaten there many times over the years. I will continue to take my family there. He always makes a point to come out and talk to customers. On Fridays, he’ll bounce from table to table, then hustle into another room to play drums in PizzalChik’s classic-rock house band.
I feel confident saying that Breakell has a good heart. I have no doubt that he had zero idea that his character — ill-conceived as it was — might be construed as something sinister.
Most commenters underneath Breakell’s apology post seem to understand: He screwed up. He’s deeply sorry. The video has been axed.
PizzalChik is a welcoming business that puts on a three-day, family-friendly music festival every year with a name inspired by Woodstock. This year’s Pizzalstock VIII, featuring local bands, will take place July 21-23.
It simply doesn’t make sense to believe that Breakell’s intentions were inspired by 19th-century blackface minstrel shows. It doesn’t make sense for anyone to stay angry, either. Or to boycott the restaurant, as some commenters have threatened.
This was a learning experience for PizzalChik. By discussing the situation rationally, it can be a learning experience for us all.
All I know is that this drama has made me really hungry. One of PizzalChik’s elk sausage pizzas sounds mighty good.
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