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Members of University of Reading Agriculture Society wear "racist" costumes to society social

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The University of Reading’s Agriculture Society has caused controversy after a society social saw a number of students wear blackface as a part of their costume.

The social, held on Monday, was themed ‘Agrics go on holiday’. Photos have since surfaced showing students wearing offensive costumes, including blackface and others examples that can be accused of demonstrating cultural appropriation.

So, let's say it again: you shouldn’t have to tell someone in 2015 that blackface is insensitive and racist. By wearing blackface you’re perpetuating damaging stereotypes. Cultures are not costumes either, so dressing as a Native American is just as offensive.

Claiming ignorance or saying people are over-reacting because “it’s only a costume” isn’t a viable excuse. Just because you weren’t intending to cause offense doesn’t make your costume okay. That’s a fact. Adopting a costume from a culture that is not your own, such as dressing as a Native American, essentially repeats the very techniques of colonialism by objectifying someone else’s culture and turning that culture into something available for consumption. 

Inevitably this saga has caused a huge backlash against the Agricultural Society. These are just a few of the tweets calling out the society for their members’ offensive actions:

 

Entourage Project, the events company that host the weekly club night at Q Club, where the social was held, has removed photos of students in blackface from Facebook.

However some photos of students wearing Turbans and dressed as Mexians and Native Americans, among other costumes, can still be viewed.

Every fancy dress event is likely to see guests adopting cultures that aren't their own, but when this trivialises violent historical oppression and perpetuates racist stereotypes it simply isn't ok.

The reality is that wearing cultural apparel as a costume is extremely offensive. There is a difference, however, between dressing up as a Viking and dressing as, for example, a Native American. The latter is cultural approriation, while the former is not. Vikings don't exist anymore, so it is arguably fine to dress up like them. 

Blackface is a completely different story, for which there is no excuse. Blackface is undeniably racist and that by wearing blackface you are mocking black people and the historical context from which your "costume" originates. The students in the Agriculture Society who wore blackface made a bigoted decision, whilst knowing full well the implications of doing so and how racially offensive their actions were. People need to acknowledge that this isn’t about others being hypersensitive or too PC, and accept that dressing as someone’s culture is offensive. 

Predictably, students have been flooding the offical university Facebook page with angry messages. 

Dilys Midwinter wrote on Facebook:

"I'm so disappointed by the agrics at this university.

"I'm embarrassed I'm at uni with people who are so backward in their moral standing, and I'm ashamed I have associated myself with them on a social in the past (I dressed as a dog not an "ethnic minority" which was apparently the theme of last night someone had been told by an agric).

"How was a social like that allowed last night? Why did club managers actually let them into their clubs when clearly they were offending so many people?

"The fact this happens at the university I go to makes me feel ashamed I go here."

The Univeristy of Reading and RUSU, Reading University Student Union, say they have both launched investigations. 

 

Meanwhile, RUSU’s President Oli Ratcliffe released a statement saying that the Reading University Students' Union does not condone the society’s actions: 

 

We would like to address the reports of last night's Agriculture Society social where students were dressing as 'ethnic...

Posted by Oli Ratcliffe on Tuesday, November 17, 2015
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