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Questions Arise Over Sephora’s Handling of Girls in Blackface

Sephora made headlines this week after a video went viral showing three girls wearing apparent blackface at one of the chain’s Boston locations. The company said in a statement to the news media that it had asked the shoppers to “leave the premises,” adding, “Under no circumstance is this type of behavior tolerated at Sephora.” But two witnesses have a different account of what took place.

The 24-second video, which was posted on TikTok, was taken Feb. 8 at the Sephora store at the Prudential Center in Boston. It shows a blond woman confronting a second woman, who appears to be the girls’ chaperone. Standing near the two adults is a girl whose face is painted in a circle of dark brown foundation makeup.

The blond woman calls the behavior “incredibly offensive.” The chaperone walks away, shaking her head. The person filming the incident says, “This is so shameful.” Then the video cuts to a shot that shows two other girls in dark makeup.

After the video set off news coverage nationwide, Sephora, a division of LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, said in its statement that its “top priority is to create a welcoming and inclusive shopping experience for all.”

Kiara Janae Kudlo, the blond woman in the video, said in an interview with The New York Times that the company’s statement did not reflect what happened in the store that day. Instead, she said, members of the group were allowed to make purchases in the checkout area before leaving. In Ms. Kudlo’s view, that did not align with Sephora’s zero-tolerance statement.

Ms. Kudlo, 24, is not a Sephora employee but a market specialist for a beauty brand carried by the chain. As part of her job, she travels to Sephora locations to check on the stock and tidy up displays. (She declined to name the brand, but The Times verified her employment.)

Ms. Kudlo said she was working at the Prudential Center location when the group of about 10 girls entered about an hour before closing. They were accompanied by multiple adults, she added.

The girls were boisterous, but Ms. Kudlo said she had grown used to working among noisy groups of young people. In recent weeks, Sephora has made headlines for a social media-fueled surge in popularity among teens and tweens, who often post videos of themselves shopping for expensive beauty products and, sometimes, wreaking havoc.

Ms. Kudlo said she saw several girls apply dark foundation to their faces, which she believed to be blackface. After informing a store manager, Ms. Kudlo said, she heard “hysterical laughter and animal sounds,” including sheep and monkey noises, coming from the group.

Ms. Kudlo said she told the girls to wash the makeup off their faces. Several hurried to do so, but one girl headed to an accompanying adult and appeared to ask the woman to take a photograph of her in the blackface guise. The woman laughed and held up her phone, Ms. Kudlo said.

“I was shocked there had been an adult present,” Ms. Kudlo said. She added that the woman defended the girls by saying, “They’re just kids.” After that, Ms. Kudlo said she again raised the issue of the girls’ behavior with the manager and was told she should not have addressed the customers.

In an emailed statement to The Times, Sephora said that Ms. Kudlo “was not involved in the multiple discussions between Sephora employees and the individuals in this group, or the subsequent requests for them to leave. Our team did everything they could to avoid further escalation under incredibly tumultuous circumstances.”

Blackface minstrelsy became a popular form of entertainment in the 1800s, presenting insidious stereotypes of Black people and offering a distorted view of slavery. Its racist caricatures became a regular part of Hollywood productions and have continued to make occasional appearances in recent years.

The video of the incident at the Sephora store was posted by Temi Ojora, a college student who was visiting Boston for a track meet. In a follow-up video, Ms. Ojora said, “This was incredibly disturbing and upsetting for my teammates and I to witness.” Her account aligned with Ms. Kudlo’s version, including the detail about members of the group making purchases. “These individuals were not kicked out of Sephora,” she said in her video. Ms. Ojora had no comment for this article.

In its statement to The Times, Sephora said: “We are extremely disappointed by and do not condone the behavior and hostility of these shoppers at our Prudential Center location, and as such, they were asked to leave our premises and are no longer allowed to shop with us.”

“Several Sephora team members spoke with individuals of this large group to address the disruption and concerning behavior,” the statement continued. “Ultimately, they were asked to leave the premises.”

Ms. Kudlo said that the store employees did not appear to be “morally aligned with this racist behavior,” but were not equipped to handle it.

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