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VIDEO: Canadian students don blackface to impersonate Bolt

Jamaican colleague outraged; university denies racism

Friday, September 16, 2011 | 11:02 AM    

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VIDEO: Canadian students don blackface to impersonate Bolt

FRESHMAN students participating in an Olympics event at a university in Montreal, Canada have been accused of racism after they covered their skin with black paint, carried monkey mascots and allegedly chanted 'smoke more weed'.

Students at the University of Montreal's business school dressed up as Jamaican sprinters, wore rasta wigs and waved Jamaican flags for the event on Wednesday.

The event, organised by the sports and leisure committee at the university's Hautes Études Commerciales (HEC) business school, was part of an annual athletic week to encourage students to take part in extra-curricular activities.

One student, who is of Jamaican descent, took particular insult with them and said he felt both uncomfortable and shocked when he saw what they were wearing and heard what they were chanting.

Law student Anthony Morgan said: "They had reduced all of who I am and the history of Jamaica and culture of Jamaica to these negative connotations of weed smoking, black skin, rastas. In this instance, it was meant to be ridiculed and seen as something that was fun and acceptable. It was humiliating as though your race is somehow a costume for baffoonery, as though somehow I was invisible or less than a person. It was really tough to have to walk by that. It’s a very painful reminder of a time when we weren’t considered people. I don’t think that was anyone’s intention but it was still deeply disturbing."

When one of the group members noticed Morgan, he allegedly yelled: "Look guys, we’ve got a real black!" He then turned to the crowd and continued chanting: "Smoke some weed! Yeah mon! Yeah mon!"

Morgan said he was considering filing a human rights complaint with Quebec Human Rights Commission.

But the University has defended the students saying the freshmen were assigned an ambassador and sport for the day and had to dress up in costume according to the ambassador.

Theirs was Usain Bolt - the Jamaican sprinter and a five-time World and three-time Olympic gold medallist - and their event was track and field.

Committee director Frank Sciortino said: "Usain Bolt, being on the front page of everything concerning track and field due to his multiple record-breaking performances, was the group's ambassador for the day. Consequently, the group decided to costume themselves as Usain Bolt, emphasising on the Jamaican colours, his native country."

A University of Montreal official said the school is looking into the incident.

Fo Niemi, the executive director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations, said he would contact the university and demand that action be taken.

"What kind of a message does it send to your black students when you don’t stand up for them. What kind of message does it send to the community at large?" he said.

"It may be a simple case of ignorance but ignorance doesn’t excuse this type of behaviour. We have to look at this as a learning opportunity. As a chance for the school to reform its code of conduct and for them to address the issue of race on campus."

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