[UPDATED] EUSA BME Liberation Group statement on the use of blackface by the Icon Awards

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Photo copyright of Terry Boyd Photography

On the 17th of July, following the decision of one of the event’s sponsors to withdraw their support, the Icon Awards have released a statement announcing they will be removing the images of blackface from their publicity, and will not be using them in future. Below is our response.

We are pleased to announce that the Icon Awards have committed to removing blackface from their marketing material and refraining from using blackface going forwards.

They have also invited the EUSA BME Liberation Group to a meeting where we will hopefully discuss their responsibility to be conscious of the impact of their actions. We are happy to meet with the Icon Awards but remain utterly disappointed that we have had to release two statements and place pressure on sponsors before the appropriate action was taken.

This situation and the response from Icon Awards and their supporters has only highlighted the despicable level of racial ignorance in our community which affects people of colour on an everyday basis. It has also made it clear that there is a widespread misunderstanding of what racism is and how it manifests in our society.

As President Obama recently said, racism is not about avoiding the use of the ‘N’ word. Racism has manifested itself in institutions and behaviours throughout society, including but not limited to everyday language, attitudes, oversights and disregard of how certain actions affect communities of colour.

Although sometimes unintentional, and often invisible to perpetrators, these actions are just as damaging as overt and intentional acts of racism.

It is clear that some struggle to identify particular forms of racism and how they are oppressive, because they do not belong to communities who are affected by racism daily or are not conscious of the wider impact of forms of racism that they do not find personally oppressive. Nevertheless, if we are to build a truly liberated society it is necessary that those who feel oppressed are able to freely express this and lead discussions on liberation without the defensive and often louder outcries of those who have perpetrated the act of racism. All too often communities of colour are silenced and policed – accused of “playing the race card,” being “oversensitive” or being “racist” for expressing their oppression. This is unacceptable, and is in itself oppressive.

We urge all individuals and organisations to be conscious of the marginalisation of certain communities and to ensure that their actions, behaviours and attitudes do not contribute to oppressive institutions.

Finally, the EUSA BME Liberation group would like to thank those who have supported us in attaining the Icon Awards’ commitment to a conscious output going forward.

On the 14th of July, the Icon Awards responded to our original statement (which you can read below) calling on them to apologise for their use of blackface. You can read this statement here.

This is our response.

As an event which deals with identity politics, and claims to encourage an inclusive and diverse LGBT+ community (although we find this hard to believe, since they are charging £120 for a ticket to their commercial event), the Icon Awards have a special responsibility to be aware of the connotations and consequence of their marketing output. Yet a team of “16 respectable” organisers have ignored the deeply painful precedents of blackface and have blackened the faces and bodies of models as part of a marketing strategy for their recent LGBT+ event.

On the 13th of July, the EUSA BME and LGBT+ Liberation groups issued a co-signed statement calling on the Icon Awards to apologise for this act and refrain from using such oppressive imagery going forwards. However, they have chosen to respond by denying the use of blackface, instead insisting that the blackened faces and bodies of the “statuesque” models were “artistic” with no derogatory or negative intentions.

As we made clear in our previous statement: “…intent is irrelevant. In no other situation would we be expected to forgive someone who had hurt us, simply because they did not ‘mean’ it.”

In no other sphere of our society are intent and art the sole arbiters of whether responsible should or should not be taken. Apologising “to anyone who has take offence” is not the same as apologising for your offensive actions. If the Icon Awards genuinely did not intend to engage in oppressive behaviour, they would have issued a full apology, acknowledged their mistake, and committed to no longer using blackface in their promotional materials. They have done none of these things.

In choosing to prioritise their so-called “artistic impression” over the thoughts, feelings, and history of Black communities, the Icon Awards have shown a blatant disregard for Black people, and particularly those who identify as LGBT+. They have continued to perpetuate the marginalisation of People of Colour within the LGBT+ community, which has existed for far too long. Their refusal to take responsibility for their actions, signifies a further twist of the knife in the back of the Black LGBT+ community.

Blackface is – regardless of intent – damaging, gut wrenching, and dehumanising to Black communities. This incident, and the reaction – from both the event organisers and their supporters – has deeply shocked and sickened Black communities across Scotland.

We should never have had to issue our original statement, but it is even more unbelievable that a second statement had to be written, again calling for an apology where instead the team at Icon Awards has issued a defence of their despicable actions.

We reject the Icon Awards’ statement and now call on the sponsors of the event to withdraw their support unless our calls for a full apology and removal of all blackface from promotional materials are met.

Organisations who are currently involved in the Icon Awards include:

Below is a statement written by Edinburgh University Student Association’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Liberation Group regarding the Icon Awards’ use of blackface in promoting their event.

“The use of blackface (the act of using theatrical make-up to darken a performer’s skin, usually in order to portray a Black character) has long been recognised as an insidious form of racial hatred and ignorance. Historically, it has been used to mock, degrade, and perpetrate negative stereotypes, dehumanising people of African decent and our identities. Yet despite this, we continue to see the use of blackface today.

We were recently made aware that the Icon Awards – a Glasgow-based awards ceremony for the LGBT+ community* – have been using models in blackface to promote the event, including at last month’s Edinburgh Pride. The use of this despicable practice is incredibly damaging and actively perpetuates the oppression of Black communities. In this context, it is particularly harmful to those who identify as both Black and LGBT+, for whom this incident is a reminder that they are not fully accepted, even within the LGBT+ community.

While some may argue that race is a social construct, it is undeniable that our race informs our identity and how we are received in society. Our identities are not accessories, and blackface is not simply an innovative new way to promote your event.

For People of Colour, race is not simply a costume we can remove whenever it is convenient, it defines us.

As part of the fight to liberate ourselves from the injustices of racism, which continues to be pervasive throughout this society, we stand firmly against the use of blackface.

Some may seek to defend the actions of the Icon Awards by arguing that there was no malicious intent, but the intent is irrelevant. In no other situation would we be expected to forgive someone who had hurt us, simply because they did not “mean” it. It is deplorable that an organisation which seeks to celebrate the LGBT+ community and its strides for liberation has thought it acceptable to use such an oppressive measure. A measure that isolates and oppresses many within the LGBT+ community.

We call on the organisers of the event and its promoters to issue a sincere apology and commit to no longer using blackface to promote future events.

To support our demands you can contact the Icon Awards on Facebook and Twitter.”

Signed,

EUSA’s Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Liberation Group

Co-signed by EUSA’s LGBT+ Liberation Group

* Please note that the Icon Awards are a commercial awards ceremony, run for profit, and in no way linked to the Equality Network’s Scottish LGBTI Awards, which will be taking place in September. If you do wish to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the LGBT+ community, we would recommend the Equality Network’s awards as a positive alternative to the Icon Awards.

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16 responses to “[UPDATED] EUSA BME Liberation Group statement on the use of blackface by the Icon Awards

  1. While ‘race’ is a social construct, prejudices based upon racial categories and hate crimes promoted by and consequent upon racist perceptions are very much a part of reality. I agree wholeheartedly on the point about intent but would go further: how anybody with involvement in any aspect of identity politics could claim to be unaware of the nature of blackface and its history is utterly ridiculous.

  2. Quite clearly they weren’t doing it to mimic or to cause offence. It’s part of their branding – are you suggesting that we can no longer use the colour black?

    Banning the colour Black from anyone’s makeup selection or banning the use of that colour could be seen as racist in itself and goes against the freedoms of people expression and democracy.

    You have to look at context and undertone.

    • On the issue of intent, and bare with me as this is is a bit long: Once I placed a broom flat on the floor intending for my sister to trip, she tripped right over and banged her head on a table. I was told off and warned not to do it again. Over the years and very recently in the media there has been accounts of people being cautioned for laying brooms on the floor which caused other to trip. (precedents) Now lets say that one day whilst cleaning I placed a broom flat on the floor to take a call. I knew that someone could be harmed but the call was urgent and I wasn’t intending for someone to trip. Nevertheless someone does trips. Am I to take responsibility for my actions and apologise or defend my actions by claiming there was no malicious intent? I’m guessing you think I should apologise.

      …well exactly! Regardless of intent, the use of blackface is now and has long been an inexcusable practice. Icon Awards need to apologise and refrain in the future.

      As an organisation which is involved with “identity politics” as Cattyclysm (above) has noted there is no way that Icon Awards (and the 16 people they claim to have had working on this campaign) could be oblivious to this historical precedents or recent coverage over the use of blackface. The fact that Icon Awards have ignored these shows absolute disregard for the black community. They have justified the use of a practice which continues to degrade and insult Black people, simply because it fitted into their Black and Gold theme
      … because the theme was more important than the feelings, opinions and history of people of African decent. It really just boils down to respect and value. It seems clear from their actions and refusal to issue an apology that Icon Awards does not respect or value the black community.

      On the matter of democracy: it is absolutely DEMOCRATIC to protect the welfare of black communities by asking other communities to respect our humanity by refraining from oppressive practices.

  3. Icon Awards Official Statement
    Responding to claims of the use of “Black Face” as a marketing strategy for the inaugural Icon Awards at Pride Edinburgh and the official Icon Awards launch night.
    We are saddened to hear that recent outings to promote The Icon Awards, an event set up to celebrate and reward the LGBTI community of Scotland, have been seen by some as negative.
    We had no derogatory or negative intention with the models in question, and the gold and black body art was solely used to symbolise luxury not colour or creed.
    The models were used as statuesque figures, with the addition of gold males at the launch to show a transition that would later see them become golden figures, ICONS at later events, an artistic impression with no harmful meaning at its helm.
    We are working closely with all our partners to ensure we create an event that is all encompassing, and our committee of 16 respected individuals will help us do this, and we will work tirelessly to create a transparent and open platform for the whole LGBTI community.
    We are creating an inclusive event to showcase the diverse society Scotland is, and we welcome votes and nominations from all walks of life in order to do this.
    Michael Macfarlane, Event Manager, Icon Awards

    • The only correct answer to this was: ‘I sincerely apologise, we did not stop to think how harmful blackening the faces and bodies of white models could be to thousands of people of all colours the world over for reasons which are incredibly painful and deeply entrenched in world history. We have a 0 tolerance policy when it comes to discrimination and are keen to learn from our inexcusable mistake. We hereby make a 100% commitment, going forward to ensuring that we celebrate in a way which means that people of all colours and from all walks of like feel able and welcomed enough to take part in the occasion. Today we ask for your forgiveness and promise to do better.’

  4. Some folk had black body paint on. Black is a colour. Some folk had gold paint on. Gold was also used as a colour. Its that simple. I will make sure next time that I attend, I will have nothing of black colour on me, that way, I myself cannot be accused of any form of racism. Or, actually, having nothing of black colour might make me out to be more of a racist ! Confused…… 😦 😦

  5. This is bullshit. The black colour pictured is as close to the real colour of the skin of an individual with African heritage as gold skin paint is to the skin colour of a native Asian. It actually looks much more like they’re covered in dirt and the fact that this gets compared to African people is racist in itself.

  6. It’s crazy claims like this that spur on negativity and discrimination. I myself am of colour and see no issues or mal intent with these models (I actually think the pictures are beautiful). This company seems to promote and celebrate diversity and rather than support this worthy cause you stir up unnecessary controversy. This is very sad to see. I find it particularly entertaining from an organisation such as EUSA who have a fairly shady history around diversity and narrow-mindedness.

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  9. What a joke… LOVE the fact that EUSA have just admitted this is all to do with the fact that they’re pissed Icon bet them to LGBTI awards before they did:

    “* Please note that the Icon Awards are a commercial awards ceremony, run for profit, and in no way linked to the Equality Network’s Scottish LGBTI Awards, which will be taking place in September. If you do wish to recognise and celebrate the achievements of the LGBT+ community, we would recommend the Equality Network’s awards as a positive alternative to the Icon Awards.”

    EUSA you guys really need to watch yourselves as I believe you’re government backed and trust me, they’ll pull that funding if you continue to be prejudice.

    • EUSA’s BME Liberation Group is in no way linked to the Equality Network’s awards.

      We simply believe that if people do wish to celebrate the achievements of the LGBT+ community, they should do so at an event run by a well-respected charity, with more affordable ticket prices, and where 100% of the profits will go to improving the lives of the LGBT+ community in Scotland.

  10. Pingback: A Scottish LGBT event used blacked up models | Dazed·

  11. The Icon Awards are all about rewarding equality. They do not discriminate, or promote any kind of negativity towards gender, sexual orientation or skin colour.

    The black painted models were not in any way supposed to reflect a black person and I think it’s quite clear considering they had golden fingertips and golden eyelids and had glitter through the black. No ones skin actually sparkles like that.

    This was to symbol luxury – the colours black and gold are not owned by anyone and are used in many different materials to represent high class status and wealth. All this has done has applied these colours to people – they were not given any character to play this was not a portrayal of someone in particular they were literally just props.

    I can believe it’s causing offence it’s a shame how people look for the worst in everything especially this event which is all about equality.

    People can claim the Icon Awards are being racist but the fact is this word is used far too commonly to represent minor things like this – Racism is a real hate towards a community or person. This is not what the Icon Awards are in any way.

    It’s sad.

  12. Nothing is a greater threat to the single most important freedom we have, the freedom of speech, than the regressive progressives, the spineless, mindless advocates of political correctness.

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