Editor sorry ‘most attractive race’ poll offended

2013-04-04 16:36

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The editor of the University of Cape Town’s student paper, Varsity, has apologised for the offence caused by a poll on the “most attractive race”, the results of which were published in the paper on Tuesday (see clarification).

Alexandra Nagel issued a press release this afternoon, saying the survey was “conducted by the writer for her personal insight and (is) not that of a definitive, scholarly analysis. It was intended as a social commentary on the society in which she resides”.

The Varsity newspaper piece, titled Is Love Colour Blind? by Qamran Tabo, was published in the paper on Tuesday.

Tabo explored interracial dating and surveyed 60 students, 10 of each who said they considered themselves to be white, coloured, Indian, East Asian, “mixed” (biracial), or black.

A pie-chart accompanying the piece, titled “UCT votes on the most attractive race”, surmised that 38% of students apparently thought whites were the most “attractive” race, followed by coloureds, and Indians.

The lowest percentage by race was blacks (8%).

The UCT Student Representative Council (SRC) said today it was compelled to comment on the opinion piece, while at the same time respecting the newspaper’s autonomy.

“In this particular instance, the SRC cannot condone the manner in which a very sensitive issue has been approached,” said SRC president Lorne Hallendorff.

“Greater sensitivity should have been shown to an issue that has painful historical significance. To draw conclusions from a poll of 60 people fails any real statistical requirements.”

She said the onus was on the writer to comply with various statistical methods to ensure validity.

The SRC was forced to dismiss the poll, since it lacked statistical merit.

Hallendorff said they stood by the university’s values to “strive to provide an environment for our diverse student and staff community that is affirming and inclusive of all staff and students and promotes diversity”.

The Young Communist League of SA’s (YCLSA’s) UCT branch said it was “shocked and disgusted” by the survey.

“The YCLSA is working toward a non-racial South Africa in which the deep wounds of the past are not easily forgotten,” said branch chairperson Mangaliso Khomo.

“Under the apartheid and colonial governments, white was deemed the most desirable of races and blacks were forced to use skin whitening creams that burned their faces in order to find employment and education.”

The organisation said it planned to lodge a complaint with the SA Human Rights Commission later today, demanding an apology and retraction from the newspaper.

In her apology, Nagel said the intention of the piece was to create a platform for students to engage on a very prevalent topic.

She formally retracted the title of the pie chart and said the chart should be read in conjunction with the article, and not as a separate piece.

The article was written in the opinions section and thus did not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper, as stated in the online disclaimer, she said.

“I am aware of the controversy surrounding the sensitivity of race and I understand that the right to freedom of expression has its limits when used unnecessarily to discriminate against others, slandering religion, race, sexuality.

“However, Varsity feels that the writer was not abusing this right nor had the intention of issuing an attack on individual racial groups, but simply pinpointing a matter that is still affecting the lives of South Africans.”

Clarification: After first publishing this story, Nagel brought it to our attention that she had not apologised for the publication of the poll but for "any offense readers may have felt when reading it". The headline and intro of this story were edited to reflect this.

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