Two undergraduate students at the University of Bristol have been accused of wearing blackface at a second year house party.
The party, sponsored by Reon caffeine energy sachets, was themed ‘Teams, Memes and 2016’. In a picture posted on the Reon Facebook page, two white female partygoers are seen wearing orange prison jumpsuits, cornrows and heavy fake tan. The pair claim that they were both dressed as Patricia Miller, a white character from Netflix prison drama Orange is the New Black.
One of the students pictured told Epigram, Bristol’s student newspaper, that she “find[s] it deeply offensive to be accused of being racist for my hairstyle, make-up and outfit”. She also claimed that she saw the Reon house party as “a great opportunity to get a friend of mine involved and dress up as convicts from one of the most successful and viewed TV series of 2016,” despite the fact that the aforementioned character has not appeared in the show since its first series in 2013.
The student then attempted to justify her appearance, saying: “The fact that I need to justify myself for what I want to look like or who I want to interpret at a fancy dress party, is in itself ridiculous. Wearing BB cream, which is not to be confused with foundation, is what I always wear on a night out: I wore the exact amount at the party as I do every other time I go out.
“Yes, it was badly blended particularly towards the top of my forehead, yet I’m sure most of us (myself included) wouldn’t even realise, as it seemed to have blended quite well with my beautiful ginger hair! Equally, even if I was trying to darken my skin-tone, am I not allowed to? Does it really look like I’m trying to mock black skin?”
The other student claimed that her tan was the result of a recent holiday in Cape Verde. Speaking to The Tab, she said: “My make-up suited the hairstyle, clothes and fitted in with the character from the TV series. No more to it than that.”
Despite these students’ arguments for their behaviour, the University of Bristol’s Students’ Union labelled the incident an act of racism. A spokesperson for the Union said in a statement: “This is just one of a number of incidents to have come to light over the past few weeks: it needs to be recognised that racism is pervasive at Bristol, and at Universities across the country. We’ve seen extreme examples of racist abuse in the press recently, but racially insensitive comments, language and dress are all part of the same problem, and contribute to a culture that is sadly far too common on our campuses.”
The two students involved have been asked to meet with Professor Nishan Canagarajah, the chair of Bristol’s newly formed Equality Diversity and Inclusion Steering Group.