Black­face cos­tumes ‘sheer ig­no­rance’


HAR­COURTS staff mem­bers filmed wear­ing black­face and afro or beaded wigs at the com­pany’s an­nual na­tional con­fer­ence high­lights ‘‘sheer and ut­ter ig­no­rance’’, ac­cord­ing to an Auck­land pro­fes­sor.

The real es­tate agency’s shindig held at Auck­land’s SkyCity Con­ven­tion Cen­tre fea­tured a net­work­ing party on Tues­day night in which agents were urged to dress as their favourite sports per­son or team.

A video from the event with Har­courts brand­ing was up­loaded to Face­book by photo booth com­pany Ouis­napnz on Wed­nes­day, show­ing eight or nine peo­ple who ap­peared to be dressed as a Cameroon sports team and wear­ing black wigs, match­ing t-shirts, red, yel­low and green sweat­bands around their heads and their faces cov­ered in black paint.

It is un­der­stood a Har­courts real es­tate agent op­er­ates Ouis­napnz.

Black­face is a form of makeup used pre­dom­i­nantly by non­black per­form­ers to rep­re­sent a car­i­ca­ture or stereotype of a black per­son. Orig­i­nat­ing in the United States in the early 19th cen­tury, black­face was used in min­strel shows, which fea­tured comic skits, mu­sic and danc­ing to mock peo­ple of African de­scent.

Har­courts chief ex­ec­u­tive Chris Kennedy con­firmed a group ar­rived at the event dressed as the miss­ing Cameroon Com­mon­wealth Games team.

‘‘It was brought to the at­ten­tion of this group that some party at­ten­dees were of­fended by the black makeup they were wear­ing,’’ Kennedy said in a state­ment. ‘‘As there was no in­ten­tion to of­fend they were re­spon­sive to the con­cerns and left’’.

But that ex­cuse is ‘‘not good enough,’’ ac­cord­ing to Camille Nakhid, as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in so­cial stud­ies at Auck­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy.

Nakhid said peo­ple wear­ing black­face high­lights the ‘‘sheer and ut­ter ig­no­rance of peo­ple’’.

‘‘The fact that peo­ple don’t have any em­pa­thy, and don’t want to en­gage in a con­ver­sa­tion or to be knowl­edge­able about black­face just shows a sense of en­ti­tle­ment,’’ Nakhid said.

She was ‘‘sick and tired’’ of hear­ing peo­ple say they did not mean to of­fend.

‘‘These would be peo­ple who are literate enough to know what is go­ing on in the world, who read the me­dia, and still they per­sist. They know black­face is deroga­tory, they know it’s de­mean­ing to peo­ple.’’

Though peo­ple were of­ten called out for wear­ing black­face, she said, there was rarely any fall­out. That re­in­forced the idea that what they were do­ing was OK.

David Sey­mour prac­tises his dance moves with part­ner Amelia McGre­gor.

The Har­courts staff dressed as a Cameroon sports team.

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