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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Université de Montréal students who wore blackface are sorry they offended you

Blackface stunt: HEC says students didn't want to offend anyone'

By Christopher Curtis, THE GAZETTE September 15, 2011 7:02 PM

MONTREAL - Anthony Morgan was walking through the Univerité de Montréal campus on Wednesday when he saw something that stopped him in his tracks: a group of white students, their faces painted black, waving a Jamaican flag as they chanted “Smoke some weed! Yeah mon! Yeah mon!”

“It was never something I expected to see in Montreal, much less on a university campus,” Morgan told The Gazette. 
“Being black and of Jamaican descent myself it was just completely jarring. It was humiliating as though your race is somehow a costume for baffoonery, as though somehow I was invisible or less than a person. It was really tough to have to walk by that.”

The students were participating in a frosh activity to raise awareness of sports and physical activity at Hautes Études Commerciales, the business school affiliated with the Université de Montréal.

HEC spokesperson Michael Lartigau said the students were paying tribute to Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest runner who is Jamaican. “They certainly didn’t want to offend anyone, it was really in the spirit of the Olympics.”
But Morgan, a McGill law student, said their use of blackface was both ignorant and racially insensitive.

“It’s a very painful reminder of a time when we weren’t considered people,” Morgan said. “I don’t think that was anyone’s intention but it was still deeply disturbing.”

After his initial shock wore off, Morgan began recording the incident on his camera phone.

“If I couldn’t believe it then I doubt anyone else would have believed this sort of thing was possible in 2011,” he said. “I also felt it was important to make this public so that people could realize how harmful these stereotypes can be.”

When one of the group members noticed Morgan, he yelled: “Look guys, we’ve got a real black!” He then turned to the crowd and continued chanting “Smoke some weed! Yeah mon! Yeah mon!”

HEC administration will speak to the students involved in Wednesday’s incident, Lartigau said, but it remains unclear if any disciplinary sanctions will be handed down.

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, said he would be contacting the university and demand that action be taken. Morgan may file a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.

“What kind of a message does it send to your black students when you don’t stand up for them,” Niemi told The Gazette.

“What kind of message does it send to the community at large? It may be a simple case of ignorance but ignorance doesn’t excuse this type of behaviour.”

Niemi compared the use of blackface to the infamous photo of Prince Harry wearing a Nazi costume at a Halloween party. He will be seeking the support of black student groups around the city to join him in meeting with the university’s administration.

“We have to look at this as a learning oppurtunity,” he said. “As a chance for the school to reform its code of conduct and for them to address the issue of race on campus.”

For Morgan, the incident highlights a need for education on race relations.

“What’s alarming is that this isn’t someone who accidentally let the n-word slip mid conversation,” he said. “That’s obvisouly bad but this was an event that was planned for weeks. It’s a problem that in the hours of planning this took no one stopped to say maybe this is wrong.”

We get that not everyone understands the significance or historical context of blackface and minstrel shows, but in 2011, it would be pretty damn hard to not understand how this is racist and offensive. The school later released another statement clarifying the students' actions and issuing an apology of sorts: 

“They interpreted the theme poorly,” said Michael Lartigau.

"A spokesman for the business school said the stunt was unacceptable — but he said there were no ill intentions. He said the students should simply have chosen another way to get into the Olympic-themed spirit.
“We spoke to the students and they found the reaction regrettable and are sorry.” 

Lartigau would not comment on whether the students involved would face disciplinary actions. 

The director of the sports committee that organized the event said a “great deal of misunderstanding has surrounded” Morgan’s video, which has since been posted on YouTube. In an email, Frank Sciortino said the event was part of the committee’s efforts to encourage physical activity and team spirit. 

“My wish was simply to... assure you that in no way were they a racist act.”"
Well, at least they’re sorry…


Skinny Dipper said...

The non-apology apology.

"I'm sorry if you were offended."

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid to think about what they would have done if the Winter Olympics were held in Germany.

Anonymous said...

What will you do on October 31st when tons of kids are running around in costumes?? Will you scream at a 6 year old who is dressed up a a hobo because they are offending homeless people? Will you yell at a little girl who is dressed up as Superman because she is offending cross-dressers?? Grow up and get some thicker skin. I didn't see any white pointy hats or burning crosses; just some kids having a good time. You may think that this is getting you attention but it's the wrong kind. You sound like an idiot.

NomDeGuerre200 said...

Yeah, cuz this is exactly like dressing up as Superman...

Anonymous said...

Anonymous #2, do you get that another person's racial and cultural identity is not a "costume" to be put on and taken off for amusement and whimsy?

BTW, the "grow up" comment is paternalistic and infantilizing...the way many racial minorities have been and--obviously--are still treated today.