‘Blackface’ Maties say sorry

2014-09-25 09:01
The two students dressed up as the Williams sisters. (Twitter)

The two students dressed up as the Williams sisters. (Twitter)

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Cape Town - The Stellenbosch University students at the centre of a “blackface” incident have apologised for their actions but say they had no intention of offending anyone.

In a statement, Mark Burman, Ross Bartlett and Michael Weaver said the incident “was an error in judgement on all our behalves, and we regret this”.

The statement has been posted on Burman's Facebook page.

A photo of Burman and Bartlett at a birthday party, with dark brown paint covering their arms and faces, meant to be portraying Venus and Serena Williams, went viral on Tuesday with many saying that the two were partaking in ‘blackface’.

‘Blackface’ is when white persons paint themselves in a black substance and then act out racist, offensive stereotypes about black people.

It was a common practice in Western countries in the 19th and early 20th century.

‘A legitimate depiction of two sporting heroes’

But Burman and Bartlett say they were not trying to mock black people but were making “an entirely legitimate and lawful depiction of two sporting heroes”.

In the statement, the two young men, along with Weaver, who is pictured with them in the photo that went viral, said the theme of the birthday party was twinning. Thus they thought of dressing as the Williams sisters.

“Unfortunately… this has resulted in the misinterpretation of painting our bodies black and has been associated with ‘blackfacing’, which we now know is a disparaging practice used to portray offensive racial stereotypes, and we cannot stress enough that this was not our intent. There was no racial undertone to the costumes.”

They said they hoped that the sensitivities engendered by the incident would not be used “as a blunt tool with which to impart insult to what was an entirely legitimate and lawful depiction of two sporting heroes”.

Meanwhile, the institution’s student representative council said it considered the practice of “blackface” to be discriminatory and deemed it completely unacceptable, the Cape Argus reported.

University ‘strongly disapproves’

The SRC did not believe that the students should be expelled as that would only “treat the symptom and not the cause”.

On Tuesday, the university said in a statement sent to News24 that it was investigating the matter and that it “strongly disapproves of any action that could possibly offend any of its students, staff and members of the public, and which is contradictory to the Constitution and the welcoming campus culture that SU wants to promote”.

The incident follows a few weeks after two University of Pretoria students sparked fierce debate for dressing up as domestic workers and smearing themselves in dark brown paint.

The University of Pretoria said there was an ongoing investigation.

Read more on:    stellenbosch university  |  cape town  |  racism

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