On Monday, the University of Reading’s Agriculture Society held a social where many students wore blackface as a part of their costume. The social was simply called ‘Agrics go on holiday’, however, photos have since surfaced showing students wearing inappropriate and offensive costumes, including those who wore blackface and others with costumes that count as cultural appropriation.
You shouldn’t have to tell someone in 2015 that blackface is insensitive and racist. By wearing blackface you’re perpetuating damaging stereotypes. Cultures are not costumes either, so dressing as a Native American is just as offensive. Claiming ignorance or saying people are over-reacting because “it’s only a costume” isn’t a viable excuse. Just because you weren’t intending to cause offense doesn’t make your costume okay, that’s a fact. Adopting a costume from a culture that is not your own, such as dressing as a Native American, essentially repeats the very techniques of colonialism by objectifying someone else’s culture and turning that culture into something available for consumption.
Inevitably this saga has caused a huge backlash against the Agricultural society. With these being just a few of the tweets calling out the society for their members’ offensive actions:
— Eleanor Alice Ring (@eleanor_alice) November 17, 2015
I’m ashamed to be associated with @UniofReading right now due to the Agric Soc’s extremely offensive ‘ethnic minorities’ social, wth.
— Isabel J Hulf (@izzyhulf) November 17, 2015
@UniofReading MY CULTURE IS NOT A COSTUME
— -ˏ` aggy ´ˎ- (@agsaggy) November 17, 2015
@UbaSocrates Hi Uba, thanks for bringing this to our attention. We have tough rules on student behaviour and we’re investigating urgently.
— Uni of Reading (@UniofReading) November 17, 2015
Entourage Project, the events company that host the weekly club night at Q Club, the nightclub where the social was held, has removed photos of students in blackface from Facebook. However, some photos of students wearing Turbans and dressed as Mexians and Native Americans, among other costumes, can still be viewed.
At every fancy dress event you’re bound to see someone adopting a culture that isn’t his or her own. Putting on a Native American costume for example may seem harmless; yet, to many people who are from that cultural background you’re offending them and their culture. There are many reasons why people take offence to costumes like this, one of two reasons being because it trivializes violent historical oppression and perpetuates racist stereotypes. Although the Agriculture Society were probably just having some fun dressing up, the reality is that wearing cultural apparel as a costume is extremely offensive. There is a difference, however, between dressing up as a Viking and dressing as, for example, a Native American, the latter is cultural approriation while the former is not (Vikings don’t exist anymore, so it’s fine to dress up like them).
I’ve always been aware that dressing as a Native American isn’t acceptable, however, until recently I was ignorant to the fact that dressing as a Mexican, for example, was equally offensive. I think many people are in the same boat and just don’t realise that their Mexican bandit, sexy Geisha, or Native American Princess costume isn’t actually acceptable. However, once aware of this people need to acknowledge that this isn’t about others being hypersensitive or too PC, and accept that dressing as someone’s culture is offensive. End of.
While not wishing to defend the Agriculture society, to give them the benefit of the doubt the students that dressed as Mexicans and Native Americans (while clearly stereotyping) were most likely not intentionally being racist or offensive. They probably just made an uninformed decision. However, there is no excuse for wearing blackface, everybody knows it’s racist and that by wearing blackface you are mocking black people.
There’s no need for blackface, especially as you can don fancy dress as someone who is black without the need to ‘black up’. Miley Cyrus has dressed as Nicki Minaj and Lil Kim before and didn’t wear blackface, so there are no excuses. The students in the Agriculture society who wore blackface made a bigoted decision, they knew full well the implications of doing so and how racially offensive their actions were.
Students have been flooding the offical University Facebook with angry messages.
Dilys Midwinter wrote on Facebook:
“I’m so disappointed by the agrics at this university.
I’m embarrassed I’m at uni with people who are so backward in their moral standing, and I’m ashamed I have associated myself with them on a social in the past (I dressed as a dog not an “ethnic minority” which was apparently the theme of last night someone had been told by an agric).
How was a social like that allowed last night? Why did club managers actually let them into their clubs when clearly they were offending so many people?
The fact this happens at the university I go to makes me feel ashamed I go here.”
The Univeristy of Reading and RUSU, Reading’s University Student Union, say they have both launched investigations.
Thanks to everyone for bringing the Agrics social to our attention. We’ve tough rules on student behaviour and are investigating urgently
— Uni of Reading (@UniofReading) November 17, 2015
Meanwhile, RUSU’s President Oli Ratcliffe released a statement condoning the society’s reckless actions.