HEC students in hot water over blackface stunt…

Here’s the link.

I’m not sure what to make of this.

On one hand, I’ve taken a couple of American history courses, so I’m familiar with the racist implications of blackface. I’m also cognizant that there are American academics (Black, White, etc) who dispute these implications, some arguing that the racism of the minstrel show must be contextualized within the era it was popular, and that, like it or not, the minstrel show was often politically satirical and anti-establishment (in that a performer in Blackface may have been able to be provocative, insightful as a ‘character’ in a manner that may not be so well received out of character).

Moreover, early presentations of Uncle Tom’s Cabin would have featured white actors playing Afro-Americans in blackface, though the role would have been far from a racially insensitive given the abolitionist and “re-constructionist” themes present in the play.

If you look at the highest rated comment on the CBC News website, it happens to be from a person apparently of Jamaican descent, who doesn’t seem to see any of the racist implications and views the issue as merely kids playing games costumed as a Jamaican track & field team. In his words – if you’re going for a Jamaican Sprinting Team theme, you need to dress the part. And this happens to be the fastest track and field team on Earth; they’re national heroes and worthy of the praise and adulation afforded to any Olympic athletes. While I’d personally feel uncomfortable wearing blackface, I certainly wouldn’t feel the same way about wearing an Usain Bolt jersey.

But I think the bigger issue is this; Canada has almost no history of minstrelsy – it’s primarily a 19th century American phenomenon. Are we as a society actually expected to teach our children about the historically cultural insensitivities of other countries, and then further explain the subtleties therein? It’s hardly so cut and dry, and something tells me Francophone Québecois 18 and 19 year olds probably have very little education in this domain. Should they, a group of young people who, if they were educated like myself were taught the values of inter-culturalism, be penalized for not fully grasping the cultural taboos of the United States?

And is it still racist if the individuals in question are themselves portraying or rendering homage to people they admire or who are otherwise admirable?

I think it would a different case if they had done this and dressed as Bloods or Crips, as that would re-enforce a negative and transnationally negative stereotype.

It wasn’t brilliant, but I don’t think it was overtly malicious. Although the audio is poor, they don’t seem to be saying anything racist, nor are they attacking, harassing or otherwise accosting Black students on campus.

And I’m not certain telling people to go smoke weed is racist either, nor is it stereotypal of Jamaicans per se. The Rastafari Movement is a recognized religion in Canada and it originated in Jamaica, where estimates place active participants at about 5% of the total population. And as we all know, smoking marijuana is a sacrament for the Rastafari.

So if an HEC student wearing a dread-lock hat tells a Black student to either go smoke weed, or to join him in smoking a joint, who’s being offended here exactly? The societal taboo against smoking marijuana in public is principally an American one, so again what place does it have in our country?

What do you think? I don’t want to jump the gun until the university finishes its investigation, but I don’t see how any of this is overtly racist or aggressive. Dumb, unaware maybe, but I don’t even know how you might penalize these actions in any appropriate way other than making those responsible watch some government produced cultural sensitivity training video.

Come to think of it, maybe that is punishment enough.

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