[CONTENT WARNING: discussions of racism, blackface]
Scotland seems to have a big problem with blackface, as we have reported here and here, and we can’t believe we are here again. To be clear: there is one rule about blackface, don’t do blackface. This message has obviously not got through to the organisers of the Icon Awards, a commercial LGBTI awards ceremony to be held at the Crowne Plaza in Glasgow on 9th October. We really shouldn’t have to explain why blackface is seriously offensive but if you still don’t get it, give the links suggested here a read.
The BME liberation group at Edinburgh University posted a statement condemning the use of blackface: “Our identities are not accessories, and blackface is not simply an innovative new way to promote your event.” How is this not obvious?
Behaving like this, when promoting an awards ceremony which aims to celebrate diversity, inclusion and those fighting oppression, is only as outrageous as how long this has been allowed to go on unchecked. These blacked up models in their underwear (because who doesn’t like a dose of misogyny with their racist costumes?) have been paraded around A VIP launch party and Edinburgh Pride, and yet it takes a group of BME students to call this out for what it is: racism. What does it say about the Scottish LGBTQIA community that people can walk around a Pride event in blackface and there is little to no challenge? Are we really so ignorant of the history and significance of blacking up, that this action credits no response?
Yesterday, the Icon Awards released a statement, saying that the decision to do blackface had “no harmful meaning at its helm” and that they “apologise to anyone who has taken offence.” So, they may actually have been ignorant enough to not realise that painting white women as black dolls is racist, and would offend many people, but as always with accidental racists, their refusal to make clear they will actually change shows their lack of regard for and a dangerous willingness to tell black people what is and isn’t racist. It’s pretty basic to understand that those who are oppressed are those who define what is and isn’t oppressive.
It is certainly not the place of white gay men to leap to defend the Icon Awards, with such excuses as “it’s not real blackface” or “they have taken 4 weeks to get offended.” How would these same men feel if straight people told them what was and wasn’t homophobic? How hard would it have been to apologise sincerely, commit to not doing blackface again and remove blackface from their website, as requested by the BME group? Are the egos of some white PR men really more important than racism?
As the Icon Awards have made clear their position on blackface and have made no commitment to cease using models in blackface, it is time the sponsors and those supporting the event withdraw support. Is this really what the Sunday Herald, Waverley Care, Pride Edinburgh and Glasgow wants to be associated with? We could ask why no concerns raised about this when these organisations first signed up but this afternoon’s statement makes it clear that whatever the history, reputable organisations with a commitment to equality need to disassociate themselves.
In addition, Pride Glasgow must seek to ensure that at the very least, there will be no repeat performance of what happened in Edinburgh at the main event this year. Following the reaction, it would be willing disregard for BME LGBTQIA people who may want to attend and would be excluded by such insensitive costume.
Ignorance is an excuse best served once and sadly, this is not the first time the LGBTIA community in Glasgow has had to deal with blackface in our recent history. Back in 2013, the group, “Queens of Pop,” were booked for Glasgow Pride. They were mostly famous for a blackface video, with the “joke” being that a prominent music star was secretly gay (geddit!!) If that wasn’t enough to make you roll on the floor, he also had AIDS and obviously…a massive dick. In response to this massive dickery, there was a UK wide campaign to have Queens of Pop removed from the bill at various pride events they’d been booked for. The group were dropped from Leeds & Manchester and had even been told they couldn’t play at Brighton Pride despite not having asked to. Glasgow belatedly followed suit, after a battle waged against many members of our own community (i.e. white gay men), who said it was definitely fine.
The Icon Awards ceremony is being organised by Paramount Creative, a “Specialist design, marketing and events company”, with no apparent links to the LGBTQIA community and are charging £120 to attend. Is this really what our movement has become? Being “rewarded” by faceless companies using liberal amounts of misogyny and racism in their advertising, at exclusive ceremonies sponsored by designer pants and swanky clubs? It seems we’re increasingly being hijacked by commercial interests, whose only aim is to make profit by selling whatever they can to middle class white gay men.
It is also apparent that the Equality Network, an organisation that campaigns on issues relating to LGBTI people in Scotland, are holding a similar (but cheaper at £45) event one month earlier which raises the question, who are Paramount to organise a “reward” ceremony when a much more well-known and respected organisation are holding a similar event? – with 100% of the profits from the Equality Network event going into campaigns that seek to make LGBTI people’s lives in Scotland better.
And what were the Icon Awards doing yesterday to make our lives better? It seems they have been utilising the services of Legal Spark, an “innovative and ethical legal practice founded in social responsibility.” Legal Spark seem to have taken to hounding accounts on Twitter, for sharing the concerns expressed in the EUSA statement, insisting it’s #defamation to not also share the Icon Award’s rubbish response (which legal eagles may notice, is linked to above, in the interests of #balance and #stuff). They’ve even threatened to send a cease and desist letter to one Twitter account, PrideNotProfit, which as the name suggests, is an account intended to highlight how our community is being treated by those who want to marketise our existence and sell it back to us. You may be thankful to know that a Twitter account is under no legal obligation to be balanced or impartial. You can tweet “fuckin hate Mondays” or “this McDonalds is shit,” without following it up with a statement from the Monday Appreciation Society or Ronald McDonald, as Legal Spark well know. Opinions aren’t against the law, yet, although the Tories are working on that…
To add insult to injury, Legal Spark tweeted a plea for people to help fund their activities, referencing how they’ve been helping the Icon Awards “protect their #reputation and #brandidentity.” Lawyers are, of course, entitled to do as lawyers do – but I’m not sure how anyone could claim it’s socially responsible to attempt to prevent LGBTIA groups from showing some solidarity and criticising the actions of the event organisers, who’ll be making a profit from a community they are allegedly so keen on “rewarding.” I’m not alone in wondering, the Legal Spark gofundme page has received a whopping £30 of their £10,000 funding target in the last 2 months.
Beyond this whole sorry affair, we as a community need to ask ourselves, is there any place for these kind of “for profit”award ceremonies? Is commercialism really the future or should we work to reclaim our history, struggle and identity from those looking to make a cheap buck, with no care for who they offend?