SAN JOSE, Calif. -- David Carter, the Milpitas High School teacher who was widely scorned for wearing blackface to school on Halloween to look like rapper-activist Common, said Thursday that he was shocked by the reaction but now realizes he went too far and wants to return to work because "my students need me."
Carter dressed up as Common, complete with a bald cap and dark face makeup, on Oct. 31, and a video clip of his class that day -- shared online by a student who received it in a message -- has since been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on Twitter, garnered national news coverage and spurred wide-ranging discussions on campus about the racist history behind blackface.
He has been placed on paid administrative leave while the school district conducts an internal investigation.
Carter, 48, said in an interview he was "caught up" with emulating Common's "Microsoft AI" ad campaign to motivate his engineering students and did not fully realize his bad judgment until the intense backlash.
"I was shocked by the reaction, and I'm less shocked now," Carter said. "In hindsight, what I did was not right, and I own that. That is my error and my mistake, and I am deeply sorry for what I've done to create large divisions."
On Thursday, Common himself weighed in, telling NBC Bay Area he is willing to meet with Carter.
"I'd meet with him, to educate him; he's a teacher," Common told the station. "I'll break it down to him. It's a moment we can teach and learn from."
Carter this week met with the local NAACP chapter's vice president, Bob Nunez -- also a Milpitas City Council member -- to explain why he did what he did.
Nunez said in an interview he came away from that meeting with lingering questions.
"The right words were all there, but the right words don't mean, to me at least, that it will carry the day," he said. "There's a lot more to look into. He was on campus with blackface, so some adults had to have seen him. Let's see what else there is."
Darienne Watson, 18, who graduated from Milpitas High School in June and had Carter as a teacher her senior year, condemned the school and district response of making Carter wash off the offending makeup but letting him continue to teach that day. District Superintendent Cheryl Jordan said in hindsight he should have been sent home immediately.
Watson said the absence of a more forceful response was reflective of the fact only a little more than 2% of Milpitas High's student population is black.
"What's infuriating is that the school just told him to clean off his face ... and go about his merry day," Watson said. "They aren't black, so they aren't infuriated. They're just trying to get this done and covered up and cleaned up as quickly as possible."
Carter said he saw the message of the Microsoft campaign, highlighting the positive effects of artificial intelligence, as a way to inspire his students about their potential to become engineers. His goal was to transform into Common through voice, dress and, ultimately, physical appearance.
"I should not have done the makeup. That was too far," he said. "I got caught up in it."
Carter said he consulted beforehand with his students about the costume, but it was not clear whether they fully understood the extent to which he was going with it.
Karrington Kenny, the 16-year-old Milpitas High School student who posted the video to Twitter after it was sent to her, finds Carter's explanation hard to believe.
"When you're painting your face black, did it never cross his mind at all that this is a bad idea, that this could hurt people's feelings, that this is racist?" she said.
Watson said when she found out about the controversy, it didn't totally surprise her.
"It's just not the first time he's done something specifically ignorant towards his black students," Watson said. "He would say really, really inappropriate things, and I would look over at my fellow classmate who is also black, and we would just pause for a second, because we'd be taken aback, and we'd be like, 'Whoa, we're probably going to let that one go.' "
Carter acknowledged that in the context of teaching sensitive topics such as slavery and civil rights, he's gotten "casual with words, thoughts and lessons" but he now "understands the need to be culturally sensitive" and that his gestures and words "can make people uncomfortable, especially if they don't know where I stand."
Carter said he believes he should be able to resume his career after making all the amends that are asked of him from the school and community.
"I consider myself to be a great teacher, and a great teacher can learn from mistakes," he said. "I can do better, and I hope I get the chance to do better. I made a horrible mistake. I miss my class. My students need me, and my classroom needs me."
That is hard to accept for the Rev. Jethroe Moore, president of the Silicon Valley NAACP, who added that more focus needs to be put on the students who experienced Carter's offense.
"There are 90 kids who are scarred for life," he said, referring to the three class periods Carter taught in costume. "How do we un-stain what was put in their minds?"
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