Looks like we’ve already got our first submission for the closing credits of Dear White People 2: Guess You Weren’t Paying Attention The First Time.
Students at Brock University, located in downtown St. Catharines, less than an hour’s drive south of Toronto, decided to go to an on-campus student-organized Halloween party last week as the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings. They wore Jamaican colours and then three of the four students (who are White) accentuated their costume with honest-to-God-shoepolish-black blackface; the one Black student did not wear makeup.
This isn’t your modern-day wifebeater and gold teeth blackface. This is your I-just-got-done-watching-Birth-Of-A-Nation blackface.
And just went you thought that a group of students in shoepolish-black blackface was where this story was going to end, I’ve got one more thing for ya: these students didn’t just enter a costume contest, they won.
The students were awarded the top honours and a cash prize at the costume contest held on October 30th at Isaac’s Bar and Grill; judging was conducted by popular applause. So, not just did four students get really racist all up in St. Catharines, but a bunch of other students thought that this shit was just the bomb diggity.
Although Brock University’s Student Union has denounced the costumes, Brock University administration has declined to discipline the students involved. This despite the fact that the Brock University Code of Conduct straightforwardly outlines the expectations for its students in maintaining an inclusive campus environment:
All members of the community are expected to support an environment that is conducive to the personal and professional growth of all who study, work and live within it. As part of the University community, all students and student groups are expected to maintain a high standard of conduct based on the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities within this Code, and that is appropriate to a community of scholarship and learning.
Instead of pointing out how blackface creates an obviously hostile learning environment for Brock University’s students of colour, Brock University president Jack N. Lightstone suggested that the students were only guilty of a lack of “historical consciousness” and instead made an empty call upon the campus to instill greater “social awareness” in its students.
Brock University’s Student Union has published more promising statements, committing to re-examining its role in the costume party last week. The Student Union acknowledges that it could have disqualified the costumes rather than permit them entry into the costume contest, and Student Union president Roland Erman says:
“What’s important here is that we run awareness campaigns before Halloween next year, as in what consists of appropriate costume use by students,” Erman said, insisting the union understands the severity of the costume and judging decisions.
In 2009, students at the University of Toronto also donned nearly identical costumes and blackface, also as the Jamaican bobsled team in Cool Runnings. A Black student wore whiteface and attended the party as the team’s coach.
Seriously, my fellow Canadians, why the racism? And what the hell is with our apparent national obsession with Jamaica’s bobsled team?