Red in the Face

Students Engage in Vaudevillian Racism

A group of white students painted in blackface offended onlookers in a misguided frosh event this past Wednesday at Université de Montréal.

“I was very surprised that in 2011 we still see this kind of thing going on in a city as diverse, in a university as diverse as the University of Montreal,” said Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations. “Obviously it shows that there is a lot of ignorance out there. And from what I understand, the university doesn’t see anything wrong with that. They don’t see what the big deal is.”

Anthony Morgan, a McGill Law student, caught the Hautes Études Commerciales business students on his camera. They were painted in blackface and chanting in put-on Jamaican accents in what was an attempt to encourage students to join the track and field team.

“I was shocked, I couldn’t believe this was happening at a University, that people were partaking in this like it was a good thing,” Morgan said. “There was certainly a sense of humiliation, a feeling of shame not only for myself, but for the few other black students there. There was almost a sense of helplessness – we didn’t articulate it but you could feel it. It was very uncomfortable for us to be there.”

HEC spokesperson, Michael Lartigau, told the Montreal Gazette, “They were paying tribute to Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest runner, who also happens to be Jamaican.”

Morgan did not see the issue the same way as Lartigua, saying, “This whole thing is problematic because it reduces Jamaicans and black people to these negative stereotypes.”

He acknowledged that the participants had no intention of offending anyone by appearing in blackface, saying, it was their lack of awareness and education which blinded them to the fact that it would. This ignorance, he said, needs to be addressed.

To see the video, click here