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Queen's racist costumes not 'just a party' for students and graduates of colour

Image: Facebook

"It's just a party."

That's the excuse being used to dismiss the actions of Queen's University students who recently hosted a costume party featuring racially stereotypically outfits.

Photos from the party -- with students dressed as everything from Buddhist monks to Viet Cong guerrillas to Middle Eastern sheiks -- were shared on social media and have since garnered mainstream attention.

What concerns me, maybe even more than the party itself, is the collective shrug of friends and colleagues when faced with the images.

"It's just a party. They're having fun. They're not trying to offend anyone."

But what if these students learned that, because of their costumes, their educational standing is at jeopardy? Or, if they do graduate, job prospects would be few and their income significantly reduced.

Doesn't sound like much fun, does it?

That's exactly what would take place if the mostly white students at the party couldn't take the costumes off. If, instead, they lived the realities that racialized Canadians face every day.

To start, their schooling would become a lot tougher. Queen's University, after all, is a pretty white school. We're talking about the place that recently cast a white person to play Othello, one of the few Black roles in traditional theatre. Racialized students are quick to remind you how that can manifest in bullying, stereotyping and assault on campus.

Yet if they do graduate, despite a worse student experience, a large body of Canadian research shows that visible minorities face substantial labour market disparities.

They wouldn't, for instance, be called into interviews as job applications with ethnic-sounding names or foreign work experience are more likely to be overlooked.

And after getting a job they wouldn't earn much, as visible minorities in Canada earn less than white peers or are relegated to insecure, temporary and low-value work.

Don't think they could wait the problem out either. Employment discrimination persists for second and third-generation immigrants -- those who speak fluent English, have always lived in Canada and come with the same postsecondary education as white workers.

But, of course, the students at Queen's University don't have to worry about these issues.

They don't have to worry about being teased or attacked on campus, rejected by interviewers or paid less. They get to skip the histories and lived experiences of cultural minorities because the identity they wore to get drunk and party was only a costume.

And you get to take costumes off, without ever accepting or even acknowledging real world struggles of their classmates and community.

But hey, at least they had fun.

Kevin Hurren is a Toronto writer working in the Premier's office. A recent graduate from Western University, Kevin's years of experience with campus journalism and student politics inform his approach to current issues. Follow or message him on Twitter: @KevinHurren.

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