Guizer Jarl Summers: ‘Blackface will not be tolerated’

2020 Lerwick Guizer Jarl Liam Summers has said that the use of blackface will not be tolerated in the Lerwick festival.

In a short statement, the chairman of the Lerwick Up-Helly-A’ committee said they were committed to ensuring that racism “has no place” in annual event.

Mr Summers said that the committee would be discussing this further, when they could meet again, and would communicate with their members.

The committees of the Delting, Bressay and Cullivoe events have already signalled their intentions to ban blackface from their festivals.

This comes after 20-year-old Ellie Ratter wrote to the committees of each of the isles’ festivals asking them to ban the use of blackface, which she said was “hurtful and demeaning to African-Americans.”


Add Your Comment
  • David Livingstone

    • June 10th, 2020 20:12

    Hi, not being from Shetland could someone explain what blackface is all about during the festival, thanks.

    • Marianne Robertson

      • June 13th, 2020 23:52

      It’s basically a non-existent fantasy made up by people who have never attended Up Helly Aa, similar to the perceived ban on women from taking part despite the fact women are the backbone of most Up Helly Aa’s, especially Lerwick, where I am a proud member of the festival as was my mother before me.

      This is just another display of ignorance by people desperate to be “popular”. Which sadly is painting a negative picture of the one thing which really brings all genders, races and culture together.

      Cllr Bell is exactly right.

      • Peter Thompson

        • June 14th, 2020 19:56

        The use of blackface during Up Helly Aa and other events in Shetland is not a non-existent fantasy. I have lived in Shetland and have seen black face on the streets of Lerwick. I spoke to someone at the Scottish Parliament about it once to try and understand why it was not challenged. I was told that they did not think that Shetlanders really understood the cultural significance of blackface or why it was insulting so they did not bother to do anything about it.

  • Kerrie Meyer

    • June 11th, 2020 8:36

    Lerwick Guizer Jarl Liam Summers proclamation to ban blackfaces (makeup) in light of the recent protests about the tragic death of George Floyd shows his support against racism which is well received. However, it’s a travesty the Lerwick Jarl Guizer and his committee still maintains a ban against girls and women joining the Up Helly Aa procession. This type of double standard indicates an eye watering degree of hypocrisy and makes a mockery of equality in our society that also strives to prevent racism.

    • Brian Smith

      • June 11th, 2020 11:19

      Hear, hear

    • John Thomas

      • June 11th, 2020 12:35

      Well said Kerrie. Couldn’t agree more. Time’s up for this nonsense.

    • John Carson

      • June 11th, 2020 14:36

      Racism = bad. Excellent- couldn’t agree more
      Sexism? It’s tradition. Absolutely baffled

      • Brian Harris

        • June 12th, 2020 15:39

        And might one assume that members of some squads will add to the irony of banning blackface, while women remain unable to participate, by continuing to dress in drag?

    • Helen Braynis

      • June 11th, 2020 14:53

      At Easter next year’s Lerwick Jarls squad gave Easter eggs to NHS Shetland staff. If women are allowed to fight a pandemic, they should be able to join the procession. The first women could be essential workers and their daughters in recognition of their contribution.

  • Carl Powers

    • June 11th, 2020 18:04

    I find the Viking helmets offensive. Ban them. Burning the boat is offensive and dangerous. Ban it. The fur than guy is wearing in the picture is offensive. Ban it.

    Maybe the whole thing should be banned. If not, I’ll find something offensive to whinge about. And if I don’t, somebody else will. We’re all morally superior so we know what’s best.

    • Jane Thompson

      • June 12th, 2020 16:27

      Your remarks show a fundamental lack of understanding about racism and also a complete lack of empathy for people who suffer it. You might consider educating yourself and perhaps reappraising your opinions.

  • Ian Tinkler

    • June 12th, 2020 11:46

    With respect Carl, this is not about what you may or may not find offensive. Nobody apart from yourself cares what you find offensive. This is about blind bigoted prejudice, be that racist, sectarian gender-based, institutionalised or whatever.
    I personally do not find the blackface caricature anything but stupid and inane, however, my ancestors were not murdered, tortured and forced into slavery.
    This is all about kindness, tolerance, respect for others, and basic humanity, whatever their race, colour or creed.

    • ali Inkster

      • June 13th, 2020 2:21

      But your ancestors along with mine fought and died for 90 years to stamp out slavery from Africa to the new world and continental Europe. They also fought to stop the Barbary slavers who took far more Europeans as slaves including yours and my ancestors than were ever shipped from Africa to the west.

      • Jane Thompson

        • June 19th, 2020 10:20

        It is absolutely not true that the Barbary slavers took far more Europeans as slaves than were ever shipped from Africa. American historian Robert Davis, in his book ‘Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters: White Slavery in the Mediterranean, the Barbary Coast, and Italy, 1500-1800′, calculated that the total number captured was about 1 million to 1.25 million compared with the 12 million Africans shipped to the Americas in later years. Other historians dispute Davis’ numbers and the way he calculated them and believe the number was probably smaller.

      • ali Inkster

        • June 20th, 2020 1:12

        Your right, further reading tells me I was mistakenly including the 17 million plus Africans also taken by the Barbary slavers in my count. But forgot to include the many millions taken since and still being taken today from eastern Europe and Russia and being traded in Africa and even the eu helped by lax border laws and pc nonsense.

    • Tracy harrington

      • June 16th, 2020 18:27

      Ian tinkler may have respect for people of colour which is right BUT WHAT ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE SUFFERING FROM MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS WHAT IS HIS TAKE ON THAT

  • Ian Tinkler

    • June 15th, 2020 17:51

    I am confident, Ali, my ancestors and present family, never blacked up. I am proud of that. (Drag maybe, but I stole the show. A CanCan to die for!!!!).

    • David Cooper

      • June 20th, 2020 10:31

      The article surrounds blackface along with intolerance of tradition.
      My late half brother has shown me a very old photo of one of our forbears. He is part of an estate workers dance team. ( Possibly Morris.) One of their members is Blackface. Some thing that came down to giving the estate owner the opportunity not to recognise their employees. Nothing to do with race. Most estate workers did not have access to makeup kits. Grey, brown & blackface came down to materials available. See :- as a start for further study.

      Grey/brown & blackface appears to have been highjacked by people with a political agenda who are not concerned about stirring up division. I agree that black lives matter. But because it would be more inclusive, would be happier to hear. All lives matter.
      Blackface should not be seen as just setting out to demean African Americans. It’s much more than that. A blanket ban is cultural vandalism & slighting people who have used it in a way that has been to do with keeping your tied cottage roof over you & your families head.

  • David Spence

    • June 18th, 2020 22:26

    What about people from other parts of the world where their differences are just as valid as any black person. Whatabout people from the far east, Asia, China and other parts of the world. Are their looks, colour and distinctive differences any different to those of black people? I think not.

    If we are going to act upon one group of people, make it is inclusive to everybody and not just one particular group.

    If political correctness is being adhered too for a single group, why not also include women as part of the Lerwick Up Helly Aa? If women can participate in the country Up Helly Aa’s, why not the Lerwick one?

    If we are going to be correct in terms of racism and xenophobia(?) why not also be correct in terms of equality for women? There seems to be double standards at play?

  • Ian Tinkler

    • June 19th, 2020 8:19

    In response to Tracy Harington’s question, I have enormous sympathy for those affected by severe mental disease, the victims themselves and their close friends and families. I lost personally, a very dear Uncle to Clinical Depression, his death devastated our family, and his wife, my auntie never recovered.
    Sadly, today, there appears to be the excuse of “Mental Health Issues” to cover a mass of personality disorders from alcoholism, drug abuse, compulsive gambling, domestic violence, compulsive paedophilia, to adictive and choreographed self-harm. However, such behaviour, although they are all “Mental Health Issues”, I have somewhat less sympathy.

    • Tracy harrington

      • June 19th, 2020 11:56

      Ian Tinkler i think you would benefit in doing some research into what is regarded as a severe mental disease

  • Ian Tinkler

    • June 19th, 2020 13:39

    “severe mental disease” The phrase severe mental illness ( SMI ) refers to people with psychological problems that are often so debilitating that their ability to engage in functional and occupational activities is severely impaired. Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are often referred to as an SMI 1.27 Sep 2018
    “Personality Disorder”

    • Peter Hamilton

      • June 23rd, 2020 12:44

      Ian’s expertise , good judgement and sensitivity in such matters cannot be overstated.

  • Ian Tinkler

    • June 23rd, 2020 18:06

    Not my expertise here, Peter Hamilton. All my contemporary knowledge and is of research taken from NHS online and recent Physiciatric papers.
    You will note I use the word “Medical and Physiciatric”, about mental disease, of true scientific relevance to illness. Not “sociological” or “psychological” studies; those terms have little to do with genuine mental pathology and are often well away with the fairies, often of pseudo-scientific nonsense.

    • John Thomas

      • June 29th, 2020 7:02

      Ian, thank you for your knowledgeable input. Talking of pseudo scientific jargon, I once went out with a girl, she said I was on ‘the artistic spectrum’ whatever that means. I’ve never quite worked it out.

  • Peter Hamilton

    • June 27th, 2020 8:31

    And thus Tinkler continues to judge, denigrate and victim-blame from his pulpit of physical science.

    Anyway, Ian’s previous comment: “This is all about kindness, tolerance, respect for others, and basic humanity, whatever their race, colour or creed” can be welcomed, particularly if it brings an obligation on him to so act, cease using stigmatising words such as “lunatic” and treat female future SNP candidates as he would male ones.

    All of this is also about the need to take action in the face of bigotry and prejudice. Some of that involves looking inwards and embracing change.

    Black face is generally used to portray black men and it is to be welcomed that the white men involved in Lerwick UHA wish to be distanced from it. This is a small gesture that costs them nothing and it is easy, perhaps, for men to take such action in solidarity with other men. Their festival, however, continues to discriminate against black women and girls because they are not male. Further action remains necessary.

    Racism cannot be dismantled whilst sexism remains in place and vice versa; homophobia and trans-phobia likewise. UHA could do great work here, as could Shetland’s hitherto gutless community planners.


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