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1st November 2012

University Christian Union leader resigns after ‘blacking up’

“Foolish mistake” costs leader his position and causes “damage to anti-racism movements”

The President of the University of Birmingham’s Christian Union, Ben McNeely, has resigned after photos of him ‘blacking up’ were posted on Facebook.

The pictures, taken at a Caribbean themed fancy dress party, were seen by The Birmingham Ethnic Minorities Association, who responded with an online article – which received over 5,000 hits – and a petition with more than a hundred signatures calling for McNeely to resign.

‘Blacking up’ refers to a form of make-up and costume called ‘blackface’, which uses caricatured racist stereotypes to mock black people. The practice was popular in England and America in the nineteenth century, and was common until the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in the USA.

In a statement, McNeely called the costume a “foolish mistake.”

“As a Christian I believe all people are equal regardless of their race and each individual has special dignity in bearing the image of God,” he said.

“I was genuinely unaware of the history attached to this issue and how it was used to perpetuate a negative stereotype of a particular race.”

In an article posted on the BEMA website, President Areeq Chowdhury condemned “the damage that had been caused to anti-racism movements” and claimed that McNeely was ignorant of “the full extent of the offence that the blackface ‘costume’ had created.”

Initially, McNeely refused to resign from his position. In an email to BEMA, he wrote, “Given that I will apologise to all offended, I do not think it is appropriate for me to resign from my position as President of the Christian Union.”

But, after his resignation was tendered, BEMA issued a statement accepting Mcneely’s apology “wholeheartedly.”

“We see he is willing to educate himself on liberation issues and white privilege,” said BEMA.

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