Uproar over black­face float

Stratford Press - - News - By NZ HER­ALD ad­di­tional re­port­ing ILONA HANNE

A Lions club in Haw­era is un­der fire for us­ing black­face in a pa­rade, then ac­cus­ing peo­ple who com­plained about it as “too pre­cious”.

Or­gan­is­ers of the pa­rade are also be­ing crit­i­cised after it was re­vealed the float re­ceived sec­ond place in the com­pe­ti­tion.

Im­ages of the Ha¯ wera Mt View Lions Club’s float from Fri­day’s show pa­rade had six peo­ple dressed as black min­strels, sur­rounded by black and white bal­loons.

The float was play­ing the song Black and White by Michael Jack­son. In a video of the event, the crowd goes silent as it goes past.

Deb­bie Ngarewa-Packer, ka­iarataki of Te Ru¯ nanga o Nga¯ ti Ruanu, says she was in a state of “ab­so­lute shock and dis­gust” when she saw the image of the float and will be mak­ing an of­fi­cial com­plaint about it.

The use of black­face is of­fen­sive, says Deb­bie, be­cause it rep­re­sents an era when white peo­ple used mass racism to ridicule and de­mean coloured peo­ple.

“More­over, this is a com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tion. Lions clubs are re­spected and this is the mes­sage they’re happy to give — all their good work does not negate this racism.

“The Ha¯ wera Mt View Lions Club needs to apol­o­gise for their ac­tions, she says, as well as ac­knowl­edge the is­sue and en­ter into dis­cus­sions on how to rem­edy it.

Ha¯ wera A&P Show pres­i­dent, Richard Brewer, says while the float did orginally re­ceive sec­ond place, along with a cheque for $300, the plac­ing and prize has since been with­drawn by or­gan­is­ers.

“We re­alised it was not ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Richard says there were only four floats in the pa­rade and orginally each one re­ceived a prize.

Dozens of peo­ple posted on Face­book say­ing the float was of­fen­sive.

“How is parad­ing around with a Haw­era Mt View Lions ban­ner at­tached to a trailer filled with Jim Crow char­ac­ters even al­lowed?,” Nganeko Eri­wata wrote.

“Ed­u­cate your­self [about] the def­i­ni­tion of Jim Crow law and how in­hu­mane Amer­i­can peo­ple treated African peo­ple who were not white, not priv­i­leged, not of sta­tus and were hung on trees for en­ter­tain­ment. So tell me

Ha¯ wera, do we al­low this mock­ery to con­tinue?”

The club re­sponded to the post say­ing it was not meant to be deroga­tory.

“What if these per­sons had been dressed up rep­re­sent­ing Maori wahine and war­riors. Would that have been of­fen­sive too?

“This group of ladies work very hard for you the com­mu­nity and sup­port all the di­verse cul­tures within it. Let’s not be too pre­cious or PC. Next pa­rade let’s see you par­tic­i­pate and join in the cel­e­bra­tion . . .”

It later posted an apol­ogy, then deleted its Face­book page en­tirely.

“Ha¯ wera Mt View Lions do sin­cerely apol­o­gise for the im­pres­sion we made at the pa­rade last night. We didn’t set out to upset the com­mu­nity in the way it has.” A fur­ther apol­ogy was later re­leased to the me­dia.

Com­pound­ing the con­tro­versy, at the same Ha¯ wera A&P show, one res­i­dent spot­ted a stall with gol­li­wogs for sale.

Black­face orig­i­nated dur­ing the 19th cen­tury, when ac­tors in min­strel shows would use black grease paint to rep­re­sent a car­i­ca­ture of a black per­son.

Usu­ally, the rep­re­sen­ta­tions were car­toon­ish and de­hu­man­is­ing, re­in­forc­ing the idea that black peo­ple were in­fe­rior.

It is also in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked to sys­tem­atic so­cial and po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion, and deemed racially in­sen­si­tive by the African Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

■ Join the con­ver­sa­tion on our Face­book page: www.face­book.com/ Strat­fordPress

■ See our ed­i­to­rial on page 20.

Deb­bie Ngarewa-Packer, ka­iarataki of Te Ru¯ nanga o Nga¯ ti Ruanu, says she will make an of­fi­cial com­plaint about the float.

PHOTO / FACE­BOOK

The float in the pa­rade.

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