Student union apologises for using Zayn Malik to front Black History campaign

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A university student union has apologised after facing a backlash for using Zayn Malik and Sadiq Khan as two of the high-profile faces to front its Black History Month campaign.

Kent Union came under fire on social media for picking the One Direction star and the London Mayor, with students and critics pointing out that neither is black and both come from British Pakistani families.

Zayn Malik
(Evan Agostini/AP)

Among those to raise concerns was Black History Month UK, which tweeted: "Deeply disappointed at @KentUnion's ill thought and misdirected Black History Month celebrations."

In a second tweet it said: "With Asian Heritage Month being observed by a growing number of countries in May, will Black icons be celebrated by Kent University then?"

London Mayor Sadiq Khan
(John Stillwell/PA)

Zayn and Mr Khan were among six public figures chosen by the union to front its campaign. The others are understood to be athlete Dame Kelly Holmes, newsreader Sir Trevor McDonald, singer Shirley Bassey and Arthur Wharton, who is considered to be the first black professional football player.

In a statement published on its Facebook page, the union said it had removed the posts about the singer and politician, adding that it "would like to unreservedly apologise for any offence or upset that was caused by this post".

It went on to say that it had worked with students to create a campaign that celebrated a range of ethnic cultures but they understood that many students "disagree with the direction the campaign took".

"We made a mistake," the union added.

As you are aware, last night we removed the ...

In a separate statement posted on the same site, union president Rory Murray said: "I want to apologise on behalf of Kent Union to any individuals who were upset, uncomfortable or offended by the image shared. There was no intent for this to happen and I am very sorry to anybody who felt this way."

But social media users expressed anger at the mistake.

Posting a comment on the statement, student Bernice Martindale: "Thank you for 'trying' to apologise by justifying your point of view however, you're completely missing the point that Black history month was created to celebrate and acknowledge BLACK history and BLACK achievements."

And another, who gave their name as Matt E Shaw, posted: "Please can you stop apologising for the offence caused and start apologising for the offence, not one apology has owned up to KU being culturally insensitive."

@FWOCuk, a Twitter account held by For Women of Colour, a London-based organisation, tweeted: "You cannot substitute one ethnic minority for another during BLACK history month, the explanation @KentUnion gave was insulting."