Eight Harcourts staff members have been filmed wearing blackface and afro or beaded wigs at the company’s annual national conference this week.
The real estate agency’s national conference was held at Auckland’s SkyCity Convention Centre from May 21 to 23.
The conference networking party on Tuesday night, themed ‘Game On’, invited agents to dress as their favourite sports person or team.
A video from the event with Harcourts branding was uploaded to Facebook by photo booth company Ouisnapnz on Wednesday, showing eight or nine people who appeared to be dressed as a Cameroon sports team.
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The footage shows the group wearing black wigs, matching t-shirts, red, yellow and green sweatbands around their heads and their faces covered in black paint.
It is understood a Harcourts real estate agent operates Ouisnapnz.
Blackface was and is a form of makeup used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a caricature or stereotype of a black person.
Originating in the United States in the early 19th century, blackface was used in minstrel shows, which featured comic skits, music and dancing to mock people of African descent.
Harcourts chief executive Chris Kennedy confirmed a group arrived at the event dressed as the missing Cameroon Commonwealth Games team.
“It was brought to the attention of this group that some party attendees were offended by the black makeup they were wearing,” Kennedy said in a statement.
“As there was no intention to offend they were responsive to the concerns and left”.
But that excuse is “not good enough,” according to Camille Nakhid, associate professor in social studies at Auckland University of Technology.
Nakhid, from Trinidad and Tobago, said people wearing blackface highlights the “sheer and utter ignorance of people”.
“The fact that people don’t have any empathy, and don’t want to engage in a conversation or to be knowledgeable about blackface just shows a sense of entitlement,” Nakhid said.
She was “sick and tired” of hearing people say they did not mean to offend.
“These would be people who are literate enough to know what is going on in the world, who read the media, and still they persist. They know blackface is derogatory, they know it’s demeaning to people.”
Though people were often called out for wearing blackface, she said, there was rarely any fallout. That reinforced the idea that what they were doing was OK.
The Human Rights Commission has also been approached for comment.
KIWI BLACKFACE CONTROVERSIES
* Last year Māori comedian Jimi Jackson sparked controversy when he uploaded a photo of himself to Snapchat and Instagram captioned “Jimi Blackson”.
* In 2016, photos of people dressed in blackface emerged in the wake of a ‘Too Soon’ party held at a Palmerston North bar on August 19 by the Massey University Veterinary Students’ Association (MUVSA). Former Human Rights Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy came out condemning the students’ costumes.
* The Bachelor star Art Green found himself in hot water in 2015 for attending Colin Mathura-Jeffree’s Bollywood themed party in blackface.
* Earlier that year X-Factor New Zealand judge Shelton Woolright was criticised for using blackface in his performances.
* In 2013, Burgerfuel head office apologised for a publicity stunt where the Parnell store in Auckland had a man paint his face black and hand out fliers to promote the Jamaican Burger, “Usain Poultry”.
– Sunday Star Times