Those with The Photo, do send it in.
Voon Keat Lai, Stephenson Harwood's former Hong Kong Managing Partner, has said he "regrets" wearing blackface for an office party in 2020.
Lai dressed as Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan long distance runner, for the annual 'In-Between Party' held at the firm's Hong Kong office between New Year and the Chinese New Year. The theme in 2020 was 'favourite sports people' in honour of the Tokyo Olympics.
"At that time, Kipchoge just broke the 2 hours records wearing a pair Nike Alphaflys", Lai told RollOnFriday, "and Nike just introduced the Nike Vaporfly (which was very similar to Nike Alphaflys) for consumers. He was going into the Olympics as the favourite marathon runner".
"In celebration of his achievement, I wanted to faithfully reconstruct Kipchoge’s achievements and managed to procure the Nike T-shirt and Nike's Vaporfly", said the lawyer, who led Stephenson Harwood's China operation from 1998 until he left in November 2020 to join a boutique firm.
"It would be extremely strange for a Chinese person to look anything like Kipchoge. So, to faithfully reproduce the celebrated Kipchoge, I did wear black make-up", he admitted.
"At that time, I thought it was the right way to celebrate the achievements of this great man."
Although blackface is generally considered highly offensive in the UK, the practice continues in several countries, including China. As recently as 2018, a Chinese sketch show featured an actor in blackface. Although the skit attracted condemnation from users on Chinese social media, others interviewed on the streets in Beijing told reporters the criticism was overblown.
Lai pointed to cultural differences in his defence of his costume, telling ROF that, "Until recently, I was not aware of the stigma in the west with this. At no time did I intend to offend".
Lai studied law at UCL and joined Stephenson Harwood in London as a trainee before moving to Hong Kong in 1992. At the time of his departure from the firm after just two years in the MP role, he said, "As with everything in life, there are hiccups every now and then, but the three decades have mostly been an exciting and happy journey for me".
Alleging double standards, Lai told RollOnFriday that as a Chinese person, "we have often been targets of discriminations", and that in Asia, "Caucasians frequently dressed up as Chinese, Japanese and other natives. Not sure why that is OK".
The corporate lawyer left Stephenson Harwood months after the incident, while the firm reported the matter to the SRA.
"I much regret this, if anyone was offended", said Lai. "However, I do hope people see this in the light of what this great man has achieved and how I wanted to celebrate his achievements. Perhaps a good intention gone wrong?"
For the 2019 In-Between Party, where the theme was 'Back to the Future', Lai dressed far less controversially as Captain Kirk. Stephenson Harwood posted photos of its Managing Partner in his costume on social media. However, it did not publish any snaps of Lai at the 2020 party, or of anyone else, and there is no public mention of the knees-up at all.
He commits to the bit.
A spokesperson for Stephenson Harwood said, "Our firm is deeply committed to diversity and inclusion. This serious misjudgement, on the part of an individual, does not remotely reflect our values".
He said, "We investigated the incident thoroughly and self-reported it to the SRA at the time. We also continually re-emphasise across the firm the importance of diversity and inclusion, which are core values of our firm".
A spokesperson for the SRA said, “We have looked at all the available information and decided to close the matter with no further action. If further information is made available, we can look again at the issues”.