Halifax Pride pulls promotional photo over blackface allegations

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Halifax Pride has removed this photo from its online promotional materials because it received complaints that the image to the right appears to be a person in blackface. (Halifax Pride website)

Halifax Pride has removed one of its online promotional photos because it received complaints that the image, which some say appears to be a person in blackface, offends black people.

The image shows a white person wearing a black face covering decorated with colourful jewels.

The image, which appeared in the group’s 2019 Pride Festival guide on its website and still appears in the print version of the guide, drew concerns from both black and white people.

Val Johnson, chair of the department of social justice and community studies at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, sent a written complaint to Halifax Pride on Wednesday.

The move came after Lynn Jones, an activist and human rights advocate in Nova Scotia’s black community, forwarded the poster to her.

“Folks, I have no idea how such an egregious error was made to include this white supremacist image in your poster, but you need to pull the poster and issue a public apology before things get any worse,” Johnson wrote in an email to the group.

“Do your organization, and all Halifax’s communities, a huge favour and act decisively to remedy this.”

Val Johnson, chair of the department of social justice and community studies at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, sent a written complaint to Halifax Pride on Wednesday. (Val Johnson)

Johnson, who describes herself as a white scholar of racism and colonialism, gave a glimpse into the history of blackface.

“It’s offensive because there is over 150 years of circulation of this image in the context of anti-black racism and white supremacy,” she said in an interview.

“I can tell you as a white historian of race and of white supremacy and whiteness that blackface is a long tradition among whites. It’s most well documented and discussed in the context of the United States and Canada and the British Empire.”

She said it is found in advertising, children’s cartoons and nursery rhymes and includes the practice of white people dressing up in blackface in theatre, for Halloween and for other forms of “entertainment.”

Nova Scotia activist Lynn Jones says she was shocked by a photo Halifax Pride used in its promotional materials. (Kyah Sparks/CBC)

Jones said she is still in shock over the image, which she received in an emailed newsletter from her MLA.

“I thought immediately, ‘Oh no, not again.’ These racist, absolutely incredulous, negative depictions of black people in the wide media (have) got to stop,” she said.

“It looked like we were to be ridiculed because it reminded me of the 30s, 40s … when Al Jolson would put on black shoe polish and different things and have the caricatures of black people with big white thick big lips.”

Once the concerns were raised, Halifax Pride chair Morgan Manzer immediately responded to Johnson and other members of the black community and apologized for any harm caused by the image.

Image not blackface, says Pride chair

However, Manzer, who is also black, said while the group understands the image is offensive, it is not blackface.

“We want to be clear that the drag artist referenced here is not wearing black makeup to cover their face, they are wearing a facekini,” Manzer said in an interview.

Manzer said the facekini is a popular fashion item in the drag and queer community that’s been inspired by Club Kid culture in the late 80s and 90s.

“This photo comes from an artist within our community here in Halifax and facekinis were popularized at the time this photo was taken, predominantly on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and that inspired local artists to do the same.”

Morgan Manzer is the chair of Halifax Pride’s board of directors. (Morgan Manzer)

But, in light of the concerns, Halifax Pride said it is committed to not using the controversial version of the poster, and that no posters have been printed with the image outside of the guide.

The organization’s social media team removed the image entirely.

The controversy over the image brought to light an acrimonious relationship between Halifax Pride and black people within the LGBTQ community over how they’re included and how they participate in the annual festival.

“Obviously we are an organization that… (is) dedicated to providing safe spaces that are inclusive, free from oppression, harassment, discrimination and…we deeply apologize for not having met that standard,” Manzer said.

Halifax Pride festivities begin July 18-28.

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