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Department of Sociology

Welcome to the Department of Sociology!

 

Open Letter from the Department of Sociology on Racist Incident at Brock University

 November 6, 2014 

On the evening of October 30, 2014, the Brock University Student-Alumni Centre hosted a party at the Isaac’s pub featuring a Halloween costume contest. At this event, several student contestants impersonated the Jamaican national bobsled team (of Calgary Winter Olympics fame), as portrayed in the 1993 film comedy Cool Runnings. Painting themselves with make- up, these students deliberately appeared in “blackface,” recalling the notoriously racist “minstrel” shows that were aimed at entertaining white audiences in the United States and Canada as recently as fifty years ago. The proudly flaunted blackface-costuming netted the students a $500 prize, which, disturbingly, was awarded based on audience applause. That evidently no one at the event chose to protest these students’ appropriation of blackness as a “costume,” and that, to the contrary, this racist performance was greeted with such favour by the assembled party-goers should elicit strong condemnation from all those committed to ending racial oppression in all its forms.
 
This was not the first blackface incident at Brock. Students at a Halloween event at the Isaac’s pub did much the same thing in 2007, and, at the time, Isaac’s management, BUSU and the Brock administration failed to condemn the incident for what it was: an ignorant and arrogant display of the racism and white supremacism that remains all-too pervasive in our society. By ignoring those who raised their voices in protest and trivializing the incident, these parties effectively contributed to normalizinganti-black imagery and facilitated its repetition.
 
The undersigned members of the Department of Sociology unreservedly condemn those who were involved in this latest eruption of racism and call upon Brock students, faculty and staff to be vigilant in protesting and combatting all manifestations of racism on campus, and beyond. We believe this vigilance should be exercised through the unions, department councils, and student associations of this university. At the same time, we caution that this incident should not be used as a pretext to empower the administration to limit free speech and expression on campus under the cover of fighting racism.
 
BUSU and the Brock administration, through a written statement from President Lightstone, have criticized the incident in question, and that is certainly to be welcomed. BUSU has apparently pledged to institute and promulgate policies promoting equity, and Dr. Lightstone has reminded the Brock community of the need for a higher level of “historical consciousness” to avoid similarly “offensive” actions in the future.

 

That said, as social scientists committed to anti-racist education and activism, we would be remiss if we failed to point out that racial prejudice and oppression are by no means simply the remnants of a distant “racist past” – and that an effective struggle against racism today must go well beyond decrying the racist “symbolic” actions of a few students, who may or may not lack historical consciousness. For racial oppression is a pervasive and persistent contemporaryphenomenon, manifested in a myriad of everyday practices and attitudes: in the functioning of the police, the courts and the prisons; in the operations of the labour market; in the implementation of mean-spirited social welfare policies; and in the structures of exploitation that define our deeply antagonistic economic system, in Canada and globally. It is all too easy to condemn symbolic acts of racist stupidity, while ignoring the systemic and institutional racism that is manifested in Canada’s “economic apartheid” (documented so well by Grace-Edward Galabuzi), in the complacent response of “mainstream Canada” to the epidemic of murders of aboriginal women in recent years (an issue that Prime Minister Harper notoriously referred to as simply a “criminal” rather than a “sociological” matter), in the xenophobic discourses that legitimate Western aggression in the Middle East (disguised as a “war on terrorism”), and in the equanimity with which literally millions of non-white human beings are allowed to die of starvation and easily preventable diseases each and every year. In light of this overall context, the continued fetishization of skin colour – and the concomitant privileging of whiteness and demeaning of blackness – acquires an unmistakably sinister significance.
 
Racism is deadly business, and that elementary fact must be driven home in our determined response to even its most seemingly “trivial” and ostensibly “humorous” manifestations.
If Brock aims to be an international centre for excellence, fostering a respectful learning
environment for a diverse range of students, then we must engage with the often-difficult conversations that challenge white supremacism on campus and ensure that the laissez-faire language of multiculturalism is not used to mask the ongoing effects of systemic, institutional and everyday racism.
 
Signed,
 

Dr. Kate Bezanson Dr. Jonah Butovksy Dr. Janet Conway Dr. Nancy Cook Dr. June Corman Dr, Lauren Corman

Dr. Kathy Deliovsky, Dr. Ann Duffy, Dr. Ifeanyi Ezeonu, Dr. Margot Francis,Dr. Kevin Gosine, Dr. Jane Helleiner,
Dr. Ana Isla, Dr. Tamari Kitossa, Dr. Murray Knuttila, Prof. Mike Palamarek Dr. Hijin Park, Dr. Mary-Beth Raddon
Dr. Murray Smith,  Dr. John Sorenson