As has been widely reported, and has been enunciated in open letters from the Centre for Labour Studies and the Department of Sociology at Brock, the display of blackface on October 30 was shameful. Blackface is a racist action that caricatures racialized peoples for the amusement of whites while serving to reinforce conceptions of white supremacy that undermine and marginalize racialized peoples.
However, the reactions from Brock University Student’s Union (BUSU) and from the University Administration in the most recent event, do little to declare this for what it is. All they declare was that it was an unfortunate act by individuals who were ‘unaware’ of what blackface represented, that they were not intending harm and that the only solution is to ‘educate’ those involved.
A number of points need to be raised in response. First, regardless of the intent of the participants, the costume is a display of anti-black racism. It is meant to ridicule the image and capabilities of black peoples. Here, the costume is meant to be laughed at as a symbol of ridicule. It is not the image of a bobsled team that is the focus, but instead it is of a Jamaican bobsled team. The explicit statement is that black Jamaicans have neither standing nor are capable in a Nordic (white) sport.
Second, the fact that this costume was not challenged by anyone in attendance is representative of the social, political and cultural environment being produced and reproduced at Brock University. The statements from BUSU and the University Administration only highlight that the costumes were inappropriate, claiming that the participants were unaware of the meaning of the costume, yet have nothing to say to the students, staff and faculty who are insulted by the use of Black skin as a costume.
This is not the first time that this has been raised. In 2007, a group dressed in the same costume participated in the event. While they did not win, the controversy that followed should have been an indication that blackface is racist and harmful. Likewise, when a group of male students decided to raise a sign with the line “Honk if you’re droppin’ off your daughter,” BUSU did not criticize the students for an openly sexist sign and the University’s position was only that it was inappropriate. There was never an attempt to challenge the culture of sexism then, and there is no attempt to challenge anti-Black racism now.
In contrast, students, faculty and staff have been investigated for standing up for social justice issues, including for animal rights and for women’s reproductive rights. In this case, would BUSU and the University Administration have made statements if it had not been for the statements in opposition? Probably not. As a result, they only serve to marginalize those who oppose such behaviour. As such, CUPE 4207 is opposed to this racist costume and stand in solidarity with those who are opposed.– Nathan Cecckin
Vice-President, Unit 1
On behalf of the Executive of CUPE 4207