Union calls for an end to ‘racist’ blacking up and tribal paint

Controversial black and brown make up used in fancy dress and fashion shows is branded “unacceptable”.


DSU is calling on students to stop the “racist” practice of blacking up for fancy dress parties and fashion shows.

In an assembly on Friday, representatives voted unanimously – except for one abstention – to campaign against the blacking up, which was branded “racist” and “unacceptable.”

The motion, which also criticised college fashion shows, said:  “It is unacceptable that blackface or brownface (any kind of ethnic skin imitation) is being allowed to take place, with both students and College staff unaware of its racism.

“College events with any type of racial or ethnic theme are often racist, and again perpetuate stereotypes of the regions they attempt to represent.

“The Union will work with the university to campaign against students blackening up.

“The Union should encourage event organisers to consult students who might be affected by events of a racial or ethnic nature, which may then act as a learning and teaching process between students of different backgrounds.”

The Union Officers

After Jola Adeyemo proposed the motion, academic affairs officer David Morris proposed an amendment. He wanted to change “Durham students regularly blacken up” to “Durham students sometimes blacken up”. The amendment passed.

Tribal face paint from this year’s Hatfield fashion show.

Hatfield fashion shows 2013 and 2014 were used as examples of events that did not adhere to this motion. In 2013 the theme was Bollywood, it was claimed that some of the models had browned up in an attempt to imitate Indian skin.

In 2014 the theme was Africa, it was reported that the show did not respectfully represent the diversity of Africa. The motion said: “There has been opposition to this theme [Africa]. However, neither the College Officers nor the student organisers saw need to change anything about the event.

“Several of those that attended have called the event ‘racist’. ”

The motion passed. The union will now present the motion to the university for consideration.

I am thankful that the motion passed. It’s my belief that if a marginalised group says something is unacceptable and perpetuates their marginalisation, we should stop doing it. Imitating oppressed groups strengthens the systems of oppression by reinforcing stereotypes, and exoticising and objectifying the people who belong to such groups. In Durham we have being doing this for too long.

Obviously not the blue or orange guy, the one of the left who looks like he’s covered in dirt. Picture from HCCFS 2013

The amendment to the motion annoyed me. Firstly it doesn’t matter; both statements carry the same basic meaning. The only noticeable effect the amendment had was to prolong the period that I was sober for on a Friday night.

Secondly, to me it seemed the reason for the amendment was to make the motion more palatable for the university. Maybe this was necessary, but the whole situation struck me as “shhhhh we’re not racist”. A point of information, the only person to vote against the amendment was also the only black voting member.

An example of ‘blacking up’

It is unfortunate for Hatfield fashion show that they were chosen for the example of a culturally insensitive event. But if they had worried a little more about being racist instead of worrying about being called racist, they wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. 

I sincerely hope the university passes this motion, whoever they are, probably mainly white straight middle class men.