In the post-civil rights period, racial, ethnic and gender diversity has critical to our nation’s global competitiveness, national security and to our personal and community development. However, after decades of political and cultural conflict over the meaning of race and the persistence of structural racism in the US, new racial formations have developed. [tag]Racism[/tag] has now become harder to see than it was prior to the civil rights movement because it has become more subtle in policies and practices that have permeated in the political, economic, and socio-cultural structures of America in ways that generate differences in well-being between people of color and whites.
Previously, I wrote about the recent trend that is taking this country by storm. In colleges and universities across the country, white young adults are finding it fashionably acceptable to throw racist theme parties. A few weeks ago, it was reported that another off-campus racist party was thrown; this time, students from the [tag]University of Delaware[/tag] hosted the party.
The photos from the May 5 party featured students from the University of Delaware playing on Latino stereotypes during an off-campus “South of the Border” party. One photo showed students were dressed up as gardeners with nametags reading “Pedro” and “Jose” with a Latino racial slur on the back of the shirt that read “Spic n’ Span Gardening.” The students also wore gardening gloves and carried lawn tools as part of their racist costume. Others photos showed a trio of students in red, white and green shirts with the word “Mexico” on the front and on the back each labeling themselves either as “Hott,” “Spicy” or “Full of Tequila.”
This began when Lauren Boroski, a junior, elected to post pictures from the party on the popular social-networking site, Facebook, which was later discovered by a member from UD’s Campus Alliance de La Raza (CALR), a Latino organization on campus, which was later posted on the organization’s website. Soon after, the university announced that an investigation of the “South of the Border”-theme party was underway. According to the student paper, The Review, University President [tag]David Roselle[/tag] issued a statement on the university’s Web site, encouraging the campus community to join him in “decrying insensitive and thoughtless student behavior that can cause hurt to others.”
After the party, several attendees expressed their regret, claiming that they had no intent to be offensive. Boroski was the only one who publicly apologized for her actions during a town hall meeting to discuss the issues raised by the party and to begin the healing process. Some of the partygoers decided to write an apology instead. However, they ended up tripping over themselves because they all pleaded ignorance as the reason for their actions at the racist party.
I also did not understand what this world truly meant and it makes me extremely upset to think that anyone who does or does not know me believes that I am racist. … My use of malicious language or stereotypes does not reflect my personal views or beliefs and was a complete and utter serious misjudgment.
I am not a person who thinks badly of other people. … But the person you see in these photos is not representative of who I am, nor is it the type of person I want to be â€¦ Please know that the insulting sentiments portrayed in the pictures are so contrary to how I truly feel about the students on this campus and the minority population.
I am very sorry that these pictures have caused you pain, and that my attire has reflected a racist attitude in your eyes. I can assure you that I have always considered myself an individual who openly accepted others, and I had no intention of causing any damage with this attire.
It has been reported that the offending students were members of the local chapter of Phi Sigma Pi, a national co-ed honors fraternity. What is not widely known is that some of the photographed students were from Blue Hen Ambassadors, a campus organization where students officially represent the university by conducting campus tours and help recruit prospective students to the University. This probably explains why the university’s Office of Public Relations were quick to report that a forum was organized on campus by La Raza and Phi Sigma Pi in their on-line e-zine, UDAILY in which more than 200 students, staff and faculty members were in attended the forum. According to Delawareonline, in which more than 200 students, staff and faculty members attended the forum. According to Delawareonline, Boroski was the only one from Phi Sigma Pi who participated the town hall meeting. If the other participants who also attended to party failed to attend the town hall meeting, one does have to wonder if Phi Sigma Pi really co-hosted the forum with La Raza and really committed to what is stated on. Was this an effort by the university to downplay the concerns over the racially-theme “South of the Border” party?
It is interesting that there was an effort to make sure everybody knows that the party was not an “organization-sponsored event.” Several media reports made sure to emphasize Brian Brady’s, president of UD’s Phi Sigma Pi chapter, message. Although some steps have been taken in the right direction, such as Phi Sigma Pi deciding take “disciplinary action” against offending students by suspending them from the organization for one year and requiring them to attend diversity classes. The National Office is currently investigating the matter. Unfortunately, since the party near the end of the school, with the country’s short term memory problem, this event will most likely go down the memory hole this summer.
Sadly, the university has decided to sweep this issue under the rug by deciding not to punish the students, particularly in light of their of their “zero tolerance for hate”. “The University of Delaware must and will have a zero tolerance for hate,” Roselle stated in an open letter to the university. “There is no place at the University of Delaware for those whose credo is meanness and whose method is intimidation.”
What makes this upsetting, the university has decided to close its eyes on the reality and treat this as a “free speech” issue. Roselle told the UD community that the “actions of the students attending the party are not criminal,” therefore the university “will respect their First Amendment rights.” The question remains, why maintain a set of policies which address this issue and not follow them.
The University has a “zero tolerance” for hate crimes and bias-related conduct. When a student has been found to have violated the Code of Conduct and the Hearing Officer finds facts demonstrating that the offender has directed his or her behavior towards someone because of that personâ€™s particular race, gender, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation or disability, the sanctions may be enhanced as the Hearing Officer deems appropriate.
There is no need to have these students expelled or suspended, however, there must be some form of disciplinary action with they are actually be made to learn from their actions. Although it true that we as a nation are allowed to express our views, but the reality is, we live in a world where people are looking for loopholes so they do not have to be held accountable for their actions. Angela Onwuachi from Blackprof provides some good insight into various ways how institutions may handle these issues.
In Grutter v. Bollinger, Justice Oâ€™Connor highlighted the various ways in which institutions may benefit from having racially diverse student bodies, such as through enhanced learning among students because of exposure to diverse perspectives; increased ability by students to work and live with people from different cultures, and the destruction of racial stereotypes about the intellectual capacity and viewpoints of both minority and majority members. Perhaps, these partying or joking students could be made to benefit directly from these lessons laid out in Grutterâ€”to learn from diverse interaction, not just on their campuses, but outside of them.
It is true that some things are definitely inappropriate and shouldn’t be punished too harshly, but given the frequency of these events, when do we start drawing the line between what’s entertaining and what’s offensive? A forum is a good first step, but how effective is it when only one member shows up. The reality is, this is not just a University of Delaware problem, these events are emerging on university campuses through out the country, which should trouble us all the more. We can no longer just shrug them off as isolated incidents and pretend they innocently made a mistake.
If one where to do a search on Facebook on other “ghetto” type parties, you will see nothing has changed. Here is a short list from a quick Facebook search.
On June 23, in Columbia, MO group of young adult white males are gathering for a “Ghetto BBQ.”
On May 27, in Bloomington, IL a young white female had a “ghetto fabulous grad party” with the description, “It be hip hoppin yo.”
On May 25, in Denver, CO a young white male had a “Ghetto Trailer Trash” eviction party.
On May 19, in Lake Winnebago, MO a group of white young adults held a “ghetto garage party”
On May 15, in Virginia Beach, VA a group of young adult white females held a “Beach Babes and Ghetto Bitches” party
On April 15, in Whitewater, WI a group of young adult white males gathered for a “Thug Life Baby” party.
On March 31, in Pittsburgh, PA a group of white young adults held a “Thug’s and Hoe’s Party”
In the book Understanding Words that Wound, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic address the immediate danger of hate speech to Latinos and other historically dis-empowered groups. Hate speech does not just apply to overt charge words used by folks like the KKK; it also represents the manifestation of socially accepted stereotypes. One could argue that the message the university is sending out to the University of Delaware community is that ethnic slurs is acceptable because the First Amendment allows them to disregard a person’s humanity, dignity, self-respect, standing, and potential. It also sends a message that UD’s University Policies is just there to give lip service and really has no teeth because in the end if an individual or organization is ever caught, all will be forgiven if they apologize for their actions, plead ignorance of their surroundings and conduct a Dr. Phil type forum.
The actions of the university are just another painful reminder to extent of this country’s commitment to maintaining white supremacy. In order the defeat racism, we must realize all parties must be committed to ending racism. The first step we must answer this fundamental question: How can we really tackle racism when a majority from the white culture actually do believe racism does not exist in this country? Yet, how is it that a nation who is legally committed to equal opportunity for all – regardless of race, creed, national origin, or gender – continually reproduces patterns of racial inequality? How is it that in our open, participatory democracy, racial minorities are still underrepresented in positions of power and decision-making?
Their rejection of racism is no doubt genuine in its adoption of “colorblindness;” but it also tends to continue the existing inequalities and injustices that descend from the Jim Crow days of segregation. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva has constructed a theory of “color-blind racism” based on ignorance or denial of racial disparities and underlying structural factors. He suggests that race-related issues are understood primarily by means of four dominant frames. The first frame involves the minimization or trivialization of racial differences. The claim that race does not exist, or is not real, is the ultimate form of this tactic. When disparities are acknowledged, the second frame involves blaming minorities for their pathological non-White cultures, rather than on structural constraints or White privilege. The third frame justifies racial phenomena as natural. Finally, the fourth frame upholds the current standards such as equality and meritocracy, but fails to take into account relevant preconditions such as a balanced playing field.
These positions reflect the dominant racial ideology in the US – a view that seems more concerned with “reverse discrimination” than with unchanged black and Latino poverty rates, infant mortality, or heightening, not declining, racial stratification. Thus domestic racial ideology both undermines an older, more familiar racial mindset and reinforces it.
These inconsistencies are indications of the uncertainties of the current moment in racial politics. Racism is a type of despotism. Whenever one does contemplate race and racism as being part of a national social structure, we are immediately struck by the magnitude to which racism still stratifies societies as a whole. However, if we continue to close our eyes to this reality, it becomes impossible to operate effectively as a society. Roselle had a chance to make a difference, he could have been creative in developing new forms of policies is handling racism. In pursuit of racial justice and racial democracy, he could have used one of the new theoretical insights developed from his own pool of professors. Nevertheless, he did not, he opted to take the coward way out and in the end; the racism beat goes on.
Thus we are compelled to ask, what would a racial justice-oriented set of policies or program look like in the twenty-first century? We should not dismiss this as a rhetorical question, but instead attempt to respond to it from a radical pragmatist viewpoint, one that takes its commitments seriously.