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Blackface students at Montreal university “welcome” new frosh

September 18, 2011

Business students at a Montreal university recently welcomed first year students at an athletic week event by painting themselves in blackface to represent Jamaican sprinters, shouting “Smoke more weed,” with some wearing attire with monkey faces and a least one in the group holding up a stuffed monkey. Blackface stunt at Montreal University

 

One student witness, who is of Jamaican descent, was shocked to see the ridicule of his culture:

“They had reduced all of who I am and the history of Jamaica and culture of Jamaica to these negative connotations of weed smoking, black skin, rastas,” said McGill law student Anthony Morgan, who happened to be on the campus at the time and filmed the group.

Video of Montreal students in blackface

I find the response of the university officials particularly disturbing. Frank Sciortino, chair of the committee organizing the event said in a press release:

My wish was simply to…  assure you that in no way were they a racist act.

Dear Mr. Sciortino, intent does not get to determine whether an act demonstrates racism. Students need to hear it was indeed a racist act whether they intended it to be or not.  Educators send the wrong message when they rationalize the behavior of students to allow them to avoid responsibility for their actions.

Another university spokesperson, William Raillant-Clark, sought to put the attention of this incident on the student who complained:

“It is just a shame that at the time this was happening the person didn’t call security or somebody at the university so we could have addressed it there and then”

Dear Mr. Raillant-Clark, it is just a shame that the university prefers to focus responsibility on a witness rather than accepting responsibility itself for the racism that occurred and focusing on educating the students as to that fact.  It’s also a shame that you seem to think that there was no one else in the football stadium from the university community that could have/should have followed up.  Or, are you suggesting it was the sole responsibility of the  student of Jamaican descent who witnessed this offensive portrayal of his culture?

Anthony Morgan frames the situation well:

“As problematic as it was for the students to be doing this, I thought it spoke more about the university,” he said.

This is an opportunity for the university to learn something critical about itself and the campus climate that exists. Good intentions are not enough; action is required.

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