There is just no excuse for this heinous photo. None.
Pictured are Ulster rugby players and Irish internationals Chris Henry and Paddy Jackson alongside three other men, all wearing black face, one actually wearing slave chains and a neck collar, and all sporting Ethiopia's team colors and the national flag of the African country.
The offensive picture was deleted last week from Twitter, but it was recently used as the banner image at the top of Jackson's personal profile. Clearly he couldn’t see what the problem was. Clearly he doesn’t get around much.
But Ulster has a longstanding problem with not seeing what other people's problem is.
Ulster Rugby could certainly see the problem, however. In a hurried released statement to the press last week they said: ‘Ulster Rugby would like to apologize unreservedly for any offense caused by a photograph posted on Twitter of some players at an Olympic-themed fancy dress party held two years ago.
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‘It was not the intention of the players to cause upset and the photograph has since been removed.’
Any offense? It was not the intention of the players to cause upset? Are we supposed to forgive these dim-bulbs because they’re unaware that between 1525 and 1866, in the entire history of the slave trade to the New World, 12.5 million Africans were shipped in chains to the New World, many of them dying on the dreaded Middle Passage?
Being blissfully ignorant of a significant chapter in world history and being deaf and blind to the pain of others doesn’t inoculate you from the consequences of your own half-witted actions. No one with a conscience and an ounce of sense should be wearing blackface in the 21st century.
As we know, blackface has a centuries-long, toxic history. It began because white audiences in the 19th century wouldn't accept black entertainers on their stages until they performed in blackface makeup.
That’s right, black people had to wear black makeup on their faces, or be driven from the stage. The point of blackface was to inoculate them from the rage of white people, as it simultaneously robbed them of their dignity and personhood. To be black was considered so objectionable that it needed a blackface mask to be seen on the public stage at all.
Over time blackface became an increasingly imprisoning and insulting stereotype confined to hated minstrel shows and vaudeville acts: white minstrels could wash away their black faces, but the community they libeled for decades could not.
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What’s most infuriating is the level of clueless camaraderie you can see in this odious picture. These lively lads are blissfully unaware they’re promoting racism and hurting people whose lives, family history and meager inheritances were blighted by slavery. Even in Mississippi people know better than to do this.
Telling people – as some have – that if they’re offended by this racist fancy dress it’s their fault is utter nonsense. Trying to blame others for your own blinkered bigotry is as reprehensible as putting on blackface in the first place.
In recent weeks we have seen the ‘local houses for local people’ protests; this weekend we have seen posters of Anna Lo, the Chinese member of the Alliance Party, burned on bonfires throughout Ulster; we have seen human effigies of Catholics torched; we have seen gay pride flags burned; we have seen bluntly racist and sectarian hate speech attached to Irish national flags to be consumed by these incendiary fires.
If you foster a longstanding climate of fear and hostility toward everyone who is different to yourself then a side effect of that is that you’re going to become ignorant of the thoughts and feelings of just about everyone who is different to yourself.
You’re going to become the five young men in this picture.
And so when the media, the internet and the modern world comes calling to reprimand you – and it's going to increasingly loudly, lads – you’ll have no one to blame but yourself.