White Toronto students in blackface win Halloween costume prize.

Photo of U of T students in blackface ''Cool Runnings'' Halloween costumes
Apology sought after U of T students cause uproar with blackface for Halloween (Globe & Mail):

Five students dressed as members of the Jamaican bobsled team received costume award

A University of Toronto student group is demanding public apologies from organizers of a Halloween party after participants wearing dark makeup were given a costume prize.

Five students, who were dressed as members of the Jamaican bobsled team and covered their faces with brown makeup, received the award from an elected student representative of one of the U of T’s colleges.

The costumes and award became intensely controversial after the Torontoist blog posted a story and photo of the men. Some argue the makeup deeply offended blacks and should never have been recognized with an award. Those on the other side say the costumes were innocent and that detractors are overreacting.

The debate was expected to bubble over last night at a town hall meeting organized by the U of T’s Black Students’ Association. The group says the costumes perpetuate blackface, the theatrical makeup associated with biased portrayals of blacks, and are as offensive as wearing Nazi regalia. A Facebook posting generated more than 300 comments, many of them heated.

“Using blackface as a costume, I think it’s wrong in any context,” said Dawn Samuel, president of the BSA. “It’s hard because some people unwittingly do things, but at the same time you need to recognize it for what it is.”

The BSA is demanding that student party organizers from three colleges – St. Michael’s College, University College and Victoria University – publish apologies in their colleges’ newspapers.

“The issue for most people was not the students that were in the costume, but the fact that they were praised,” said Daniella Kyei, vice-president of equity for the U of T students’ union.

Catherine Brown, president of Victoria University’s Student Administrative Council, said that while the three colleges organized the Oct. 29 Halloween party, only representatives from St. Michael’s College decided to award a costume prize.

“We regret that this insensitive costume was documented as one of the best costumes of the night,” she said.

Officials from St. Michael’s College Student Union did not return messages yesterday.

In a post on the Torontoist website last week, Deryn, the student who awarded the prize the day after the event, apologized and said he didn’t think the costumes would cause offence. But, after reading up about blackface, he wrote that he “felt embarrassed and upset over my own ignorance in how potentially offensive something of this nature could be.” The costume award consisted of free admission to the group’s next party, worth $5.

In a separate post, the students who dressed as the Jamaican Bobsled Team said they didn’t intend to offend anyone and were trying to portray the characters in the movie, Cool Runnings, a comedy based on the Jamaican national bobsled team’s debut at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.

The group consisted of four white students who wore brown makeup. One also sported a black wig. In addition, a Trinidadian student wore white makeup to portray the movie’s coach, played by John Candy.

“This movie played a large part in our childhoods, and we simply wanted to express our feelings towards it with realistic costumes, which in this case included skin color,” the post says.

They also wrote: “Would things be different if we dressed as Barack Obama, the leader of the free world? We believe so …”

(Several years ago, I came across a webpage listing all blackface party incidents in universities up to that year. It was a very long list. If you have the link, please drop it in the comments.)


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24 Responses to “White Toronto students in blackface win Halloween costume prize.”

  1. BLACKkittenROAR Says:

    Its absolutely amazing that so many who are seeking higher education seem to be so damn ignorant. I suppose they thought that since they weren’t going for the tar black version of blackface that they were somehow being less offensive. Absolutely ridiculous. I’m offended that this would even take place in my city, but really not all that surprised.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    It’s my city too. Part of me doesn’t want to air the dirty laundry and give non-Canadians the impression that Torontonians are all that ignorant, but I’m doing it for Toronto, to bring attention to our own racial issues and local news.

    The last sentence of the quoted article is hilarious, too. They just don’t get it.

  3. thelady Says:

    awash in a sea of ignorance, so much of this seems like it should be common sense but I guess they missed the memo, at least the one guy gave a sincere apology

  4. BLACKkittenROAR Says:

    Yeah, I definitely don’t understand how one could come to the conclusion that using blackface to depict the 1st American president of African decent would be less offensive. If anything it would be a billion times more offensive! Its sad that there were Black people involved, and from the looks of the picture condoning this senseless stupidity. I think Canadians are too quick to dismiss racism as an American phenomenon, when really that is the furthest from the truth.

  5. Restructure! Says:

    Deryn, the student who awarded the prize, apologized, and was sincerely embarrassed and upset over his ignorance, is South Asian. Just pointing it out, so that we don’t assume “Deryn” is the name of a white person.

  6. Jamaicanadian Says:

    I do not see what is racist about what these students were doing? Were they trying to insult black people? Were they portraying black people in a disparaging way? Were they in any way implying that black people are bad? I personally think not, I believe they were celebrating a pop culture phenomenon that everybody from Disney to the Olympic committee recognizes and enjoys. For me as a Jamaican this just another piece of our rich culture that manifests itself in a humorous way.

  7. Restructure! Says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackface

    Also, isn’t the premise of the comedy Cool Runnings “LOL! Black people playing winter sports!!!”

  8. Restructure! Says:

    Here is Deryn’s apology:

    Hi,

    My name is Deryn, and my job on SMCSU is to throw parties. I am writing this because there seems to be some sort of perception that official apologies have not been offered, which they have. Firstly I’d like to confirm that the costumes of the night were not selected in any formal process. I take full responsibility for it, and it would be unfair for anyone else to get any slack over what I my self have done.

    I sent the message the morning after the party which is the usual tradition. I was reminded by a friend that best costumes for the night had not been awarded. I then went on facebook and saw that there was one album of the night posted. There were about six pictures in that album which had group shots of pairs or teams of people. I selected the teams based on which pictures had the most number of students in them, my intention being that students would be able to recognize friends and such in the pictures. So, there were six groups of students that were given the best costume of the night, (not just the bobsled team). The teams were awarded free admission ( a value of $5each) to our next party (Graffiti) on November the 19th.

    Amongst the six chosen was a team of five students who were portraying the Jamaican bobsled team from the movie Cool Runnings. The white students had their faces painted to depict the Jamaican members of the team. While the one black member of the team had his face painted white to depict the coach and late actor John Candy.When I chose those costumes it did not occur to me that the cool runnings team costume was potentially offensive. I suppose it did not occur to me because I was not personally offended and neither were any of the students who were partying with the cool runnings team, many of which were minority students. Moreover I was completely unaware as to any ideas about “blackface”

    However, after reading the Wikipedia article on “blackface” I felt embarrassed and upset over my own ignorance in how potentially offensive something of this nature could be. However I truly believe that no one in that group meant any offense, they like myself I am sure, were completely unaware and of the implications of “blackface.” Moreover from my archaic understanding of “blackface” it seems that the goal of the whole business is to cause racist comedic ridicule, which i do not believe the students were trying to do, and neither was I.

    But like I said the students, just as my self were completly ignorant as to what “black face” is. That being said, I know that being ignorant is no defense for offending someone, I myself have experienced blatant and subtle racism. Yet I want to assure you that the Cool Runnings team, my self and the organizations that gave me funding for this party in no way intended for any racist stereotypes to be perpetuated, and if they were perpetuated we can only be extremely apologetic and confident that this sort of thing will never happen again.

    thank you for hearing me out

  9. EvoShandor Says:

    Blackface was used to make fun of blacks in a time when blacks could not even be on stage. These guys were in costumes. Big difference.

    If they painted themselves green to be aliens it would not be a big deal.

    I am so sick and tired of EVERYONE running for cover whenever ANYONE has expresses a sense of discrimination or racism.

    And why is the black man in whiteface not facing the same level of scrutiny?

  10. jwbe Says:

    >If they painted themselves green to be aliens it would not be a big deal.

    Black people aren’t aliens and ‘whiteface’ is something completely different than ‘blackface’

  11. Alex Says:

    I also don’t get the notion that blackface is ALWAYS racist. Of course there are times when it’s offensive, but as a black man, I don’t find this at all offensive. So they put on some makeup to look black. Big whup: I don’t see them promoting any negative stereotypes while wearing that makeup, or in anyway implying that black people are less than.

  12. Adebe DeRango-Adem: Blackface, Eh?: Canada’s Racialist Vernacular | News from: The Huffington Post - Breaking News and Opinion Says:

    […] for a university-hosted Halloween party. The students went to the party in blackface, and won the award for best costume. When later confronted about their costume choice, the students claimed that it was all in good […]

  13. Anonymous Says:

    does this remind anyone of that one movie? you know, the one where the white kid goes blsackface for a cheaper college? it’s from the 80’s. does anyone know the name of that movie?

  14. Buy Cinderella Costume Says:

    These guys have nothing to apologize for in my view. I don’t think they went to far and I’m always standing up for people of all backgrounds.

  15. fred Says:

    When I was growing up it was common for the black kids I went to school with to wear whiteface on halloween. So what? People can do whatever they want. Now, if someone wore a costume in a deliberate attempt to denigrate others then that’s another matter. But that’s not what was going on here. You had four white kids portraying the jamaican bobsled team and a black kid portraying their white coach. It’s a parody. Just some good natured, tongue in cheek humour.

    But, Noooooo! Can’t have any of that. Can’t have folks getting along and having fun without a little racial muckraking. So here comes restructure to the rescue. Leading the charge in defense of Victims TM everywhere. Great job Don Quiote. Keep tilting at those giants. You’re bound to hit a windmill eventually.

    I’m glad to see some of the readers showing sense enough not to say “how high?” everytime some racebaiting hustler says “Jump”. That’s the problem with race relations. People won’t leave the shit alone.

  16. Restructure! Says:

    http://www.mixedmediawatch.com/2005/12/16/morgan-freeman-stop-talking-about-race-and-racism-will-end/#comment-2853

    William Theodore wrote:

    I think Morgan Freeman is entitled to his opinion. After all, this is America, a free country. I personally find his comments to be ridiculous and absurd. Does Mr. Freeman really think that racism would go away by not talking about it. Will Aids go away by not talking about it? Will Breast Cancer go away by not talking about it? Paul Robeson must be rolling in his grave, Sidney Poitier, I am sure is embarrased by this man, Harry Belafonte must be upset. But this brother is really a very good actor. He sure had me fooled. I really thought that he was an intelligent Black Man. But he was only acting. He is really an Idiot disguised as an intelligent person. Keep on driving Miss Daisy my brother.

  17. fred Says:

    I don’t know which is more pathetic… William Theodore attacking Morgan Freeman for not being racist or quoting him to justify your racial agitation.

  18. nikcrit Says:

    hey look, I found a white mom who dressed her child up as a black kid for Halloween…
    Oh, wait a minute!

    http://www.glamourvanity.com/glam-events/scary-funny-sexy-glam-a-list-halloween-2009/

  19. nikcrit Says:

    hey look, I found a white mom who dressed her child up as a black kid for Halloween…
    Oh, wait a minute!

    http://www.glamourvanity.com/glam-events/scary-funny-sexy-glam-a-list-halloween-2009/

    :)

  20. fred Says:

    nikcrit-

    That was funny. LOL! Did you see Mickey Rourke in whiteface? Should I be offended?

  21. Lara Croft costume fan Says:

    @anonymous – the name of that movie was Soul Man with C. Thomas Howell.

    I personally don’t think this was racist at all… I totally agree with EvoShander.

  22. avatar outfit Says:

    I think this is getting ridiculous, Halloween is about dressing up and looking like someone. They are not offending anyone dressing up as the Jamaican Bobsled Team. I am a caucasian and I dressed up as Buckwheat one year and I won the best costume contest because of creativity, not to be funny and make fun of blacks. So if I dress up as Jake Sully from the movie Avatar am I going to be offending the people on Pandora.

  23. Sam Says:

    Late to the party again. (No pun intended.)
    I’ve never gotten over that horrible movie, “White Girls”, in which Damon Wayans and some other guy did whiteface. You know, like, I’m blonde, and, like, OMG! They wore BLONDE WIGS, and how r u supposed to feel good about urself when people r always saying u r stupid bcause of, like, ur hair????????? (You can’t see it, but I just flipped a stray lock back over my shoulder.)
    Does anyone remember “Silver Streak”?
    Richard Pryor smears brown shoe polish on Gene Wilder’s face as a disguise to get him past a police patrol in a train station. I’m still haunted by feelings of inadequacy because the scene clearly illustrated the fact that white people are irredeemably uncool. *sniffle* But that doesn’t matter. Now that I’m better educated I realize that the real outrage of the scene was in implying that black guys can innocently pass anywhere near a policeman without being beaten up and thrown in prison, as is consistent with that overarching whiteness system designed to oppress people of color.
    Speaking of Halloween, shouldn’t Romania be pushing for reparations over all of the unearned weath that Bram Stoker, Hollywood and the rest of the elitist white power establishment scored by exploiting Vlad the Impaler’s (other) nickname?

  24. White Canadians with KKK uniform, noose, and blackface win Halloween costume prize. « Restructure! Says:

    […] (This is worse than last year: White Toronto students in blackface win Halloween costume prize.) […]


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