This past semester I had the genuine pleasure of giving my talk about hook up culture to students at my own institution, Occidental College. This was a treat — and also a little bit scary — not only because I was talking to my own community, but because many of the students in the audience had been part of the two studies that informed my talk (here’s one). I wanted to do them justice and make them feel good about their contribution, even if they had mixed feelings about the stories of theirs that I was telling.
In the end, it felt like an incredible catharsis. The students, who I adore, seemed genuinely thrilled that I was there to bring their experiences into the light; whether they were a part of the study or not, they knew that on some level this was about them. Their response was overwhelming. So I post this talk — with relatively bad video and decent audio — but an amazing audience response, as evidence of how receptive college students are to interesting analyses of their lives by (relatively) impartial analysts. And, also: I love you, Oxy! Y’all are my favorite!
It’s been six months since we’ve discovered evidence of another racist party or antic on a college or high school campus. I guess it was about time for another… well, three more. Updated and re-posted.
This post is a collection of racially-themed parties and events at college and high school campuses. They’re examples of one kind of simple individual racism that still perpetuates daily life in the U.S.
April 2013: This still is from a video celebrating the spring semester induction of new recruits into UC Irvine’s Asian-American fraternity Lambda Theta Delta (via Colorlines). It features a fraternity member in blackface. The entire video can be seen here.
February 2013: Three hockey fans in the audience of a North Dakota high school semifinal donned Ku Klux Klan-ish hoods as a “joke,” they later said:
October 2012: The photograph below depicts the members of the Chi Omega sorority at Penn State (source). It was taken during a Mexican fiesta-themed party around Halloween. The signs read: “will mow lawn for weed & beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”
The Vice President of the college’s Mexican American Student Association, Cesar Sanchez Lopez, wrote:
The Mexican American Student Association is disappointed in the attire chosen by this sorority. It in no way represents our culture. Not only have they chosen to stereotype our culture with serapes and sombreros, but the insinuation about drug usage makes this image more offensive. Our country is plagued by a drug war that has led to the death of an estimated 50,000 people, which is nothing to be joked about.
The president of the sorority sent out an apology. Penalties are under discussion as of this posting.
May 2012: The University of Chicago’s Alpha Delta Phi fraternity required pledges to wear ”Mexican labor outfits” and sombreros while mowing the frat house lawn to Mexican ranchera music (source).
UPDATE: A University of Chicago student involved in reporting this incident wrote it to say that the photograph we originally published is likely unrelated to the Alpha Delta Phi incident (that is, a fake or a photo of a different event). In other words, the incident happened, but the photograph was not of the incident. Accordingly, we’ve removed the photo.
September 2011: Students at Hautes Etudes Commerciales, a Montreal business school, were filmed “wearing black makeup [and] chant[ing] with mock Jamaican accents about smoking marijuana” as part of a skit (source). A student explained that it was part of a skit in honor of Jamacian Olympian Usain Bolt. A spokesperson for the school explained that Francophone Canadians were unaware of the racial history behind blackface.
Anthony Morgan, a law student at McGill University, caught the students on film. He welcomed an apology from the school, is eager to follow up on their own investigation of the incident and, in the meantime, is filing a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission (source). He explained:
[Being black] is not a costume that you put on… This is not just about a few bad apples. This is about a greater problem about what we think about, how we value, how we understand, how we discuss — if we discuss — black history, culture and contribution.
Race-themed events at colleges and universities are a yearly ritual. I include our collection of such parties and “celebrations” below.
February 2010: Members of the Athletics Union at the London School of Economics painted their faces brown and “dressed up as Guantanamo Bay inmates and drunkenly yelled ‘Oh Allah’…” At least 12 students were found to have dressed up in costumes that were deemed “racist, religiously insensitive and demeaning.”
October 2009: University of Toronto students decided to dress up like the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings for Halloween (source). Their costume, which earned them a “Costume of the Night” award at this college-sponsored party, included blackface.
February 2007: Pictures from a “South of the Border” party at Santa Clara University in California. Indeed, that IS a pregnant woman, cleaning ladies, and a slutty gang member.
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Tarleton State University in Texas:
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Clemson College in South Carolina:
January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at University of Connecticut School of Law:
So it turns out there’s this company that makes “zombie” targets for gun enthusiasts. They have clown zombies, nazi zombies, “terrorist” zombies, dog zombies and even a green zombie named “Rocky” that has Barack Obama’s ears.
The Zombie virus does not discriminate and neither does Zombie Industries. We take preparation for the Zombie Apocalypse seriously, which is why we strive to have all groups of undead monsters represented in our product selection. In addition to the Ex Girlfriend Zombie, we currently sell 15 male zombies, 5 animal zombies & 2 aliens… to discriminate against Women by not having them represented in our product selection would be just plain sexist.
Each of the zombie targets has a story. Here is the story of “The Ex”:
Be warned, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned but a man scorned is nothing to mess with! A young gent from Louisiana, we’ll call him André to protect his identity, was deeply committed to his one true love and her to him, or so he thought. While partying with her friends during one particular Mardi Gras, she took several suitors over the course of the festivities. André felt something odd indeed, so he paid a visit to his great aunt, Marie, who helped him see the truth. With a few eggs, candles lit and kiss upon his forehead, her voodoo curse was set in motion. Late each night while lying in bed, a smile would appear across his face, for a slight breeze would travel through a cracked window bringing with it, a faint whiff of decay and a unnatural cry of regret.
That’s right. In this narrative, a man kills a woman for cheating on him, and has her turned into a zombie. Which you, bro, are now invited to blow to bits.
Despite the game-like zombie theme, it is notable that the single human female representation has been created specifically as a target of violent male anger towards a woman’s ownership of her own sexuality. And ”The Ex” is portrayed in a highly sexual way, with what seems to be a bare lower torso and busting out chest.
Policymic writes, “Every day, at least three women are killed by an intimate partner in the US alone. Let’s make sure those numbers go down, not up. Let’s make sure companies like Zombies Industries know that we’re not buying it.”
Some people, however, are buying it. And this is what’s most troubling.
From the product reviews:
This Zombie Bitch is awesome, reminds me of a girl I knew in High School, My LMT LM308MWS should put a stop to the undead bring them on !!! Later Party till you drop Corvette forever !!!!!
I love that this target looks like Britney Spears and it bleeds when I shot it.
And from YouTube:
Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.
Scholars suggest that studying abroad in a previously-colonized country may increase people’s cultural sensitivity and awareness of global inequality. I investigated this hypothesis by interviewing college students: one group had studied abroad for a semester or more, the other had only traveled out of the country for vacation.
I asked both groups to view and analyze fashion photography that contrasted models with more humble images of residents of less developed countries. I hoped people would point to how, by contrasting glamorous, thin, conventionally-attractive White models with “average” people from less-privileged countries served to heighten the high status of the West and their representatives. I saw this as a form of Western “slumming”: a practice of spending time in places or with people who are “below” you, out of curiosity or for fun or personal development.
Here are three examples of the kinds of photography I showed students:
My findings revealed that study abroad students think they’re more culturally competent but, in fact, they were no more likely than people who had never studied abroad to express concern about the exploitation of previously colonized people in ads like these.
The majority of students from both groups – those who’d studied abroad and those who hadn’t — demonstrated a distinct lack of concern. They unreflexively “Othered” the people in these images; that is, they affirmed the locals’ marginalized group status and labeled them as being Other, belonging outside of our normative Western structure.
The majority also expressed approval of the aesthetics of the ads without irony. For example, one student said: “I think it works because it’s this edgy, culturally stimulating, and aesthetically pleasing ad.” When asked the art director’s intentions, another student commented: “I don’t know. Just like ordinary people next to someone who’s on top of their fashion game.”
Only select few students successfully observed the use of Othering in the images. When asked the art director’s intentions of one image, a student replied: “I think it’s to contrast the model with the everyday life of these people… (it) feels more like an image of people of color being an accessory.” Noticing this theme, interestingly, did not correlate with having studied abroad, in contrast to my hypothesis.
My findings suggest, then, that living abroad for a semester or more in a previously colonized country does not necessarily contribute to the detection of global inequality in fashion photography.
Erica Ales is a senior Sociology major at Occidental College in Los Angeles, California.
The fashion industry is not inclusive of racial and ethnic minorities. Many of the industry’s most celebrated and acclaimed fashion houses rarely cast models of color for their runway shows. Fall 2013 was one of the worst seasons in diversity for casting. Almost 83% of the models on the runway were white (source):
The result is an incredibly homogeneous look on the runway. This image is from the Fall 2013 Gucci show (source):
And this one is from the Fall 2013 Calvin Klein show (source):
Faintly aware of this critique, some designers put a minority model on the runway every odd season. But while look-alike white models are hired en masse, designers often limit just how much color they’re willing to include. Chanel Iman, an extremely successful multiracial model, told The Times: “Designers have told me, ‘We already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’”
Leila Ananna, a casting director for Burberry, Gucci, Emilio Pucci, Saint Laurent, and more, thinks that this is okay. Commenting on the lack of runway diversity, she said: “We think we need to keep in mind that these are shows. A show needs to make you dream, and it doesn’t necessarily need to represent reality.”
Ananna’s words pose many concerns. The idea that fashion shows are supposed to make you dream suggests that everyone is white in this idealized world. In contrast, I find the idealization of the homogeneous aesthetic to be a reflection of racism; this is a nightmare, not a dream.
Rebs (Wooyoung) Lim is currently a student attending Occidental College. She is interested in minoring in Sociology and majoring in Urban and Environmental Policy. She does not have a twitter account, sadly.
Let me ask you a question: Do you have a good friend of the opposite sex?
Odds are you do. In fact, the odds are overwhelming.
When I first began teaching, 25 or so years ago, I asked my students how many of them had a good friend of the opposite sex. About 10% said they did. The rest were from what I called the When Harry Met Sally generation. You’ll remember the scene, early in the film, when Harry asserts that women and men can’t be friends because “sex always gets in the way.” Sally is sure he’s wrong. They fight about it. Then, thinking she has the clincher for her position, she says, confidently, “So that means that you can be friends with them if you’re not attracted to them!”
“Ah,” says Harry, “you pretty much want to nail them too.”
Young people today have utterly and completely repudiated this idea. These days, when I ask my students, I’ve had to revise the question: “Is there anyone here who does not have a friend of the opposite sex?” A few hands perhaps, in the more than 400 students in the class.
But let’s think, for a moment, about the “politics” of friendship. With whom do you make friends? With your peers. Not your supervisor or boss. Not your subordinate. Your equal. More than romance, and surely more than workplace relationships, friendships are the relationships with the least amount of inequality.
This changes how we can engage men in the efforts to end sexual assault, because there are three elements to sexual assault that can be discussed and disentangled.
First is m en’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, to sex. This sense of entitlement dissolves in the face of an encounter with your friends. After all, entitlement is premised on inequality. The more equal women are, the less entitlement men may feel. (Entitlement is not to be confused with resentment; equality often breeds resentment in the privileged group. The privileged rarely support equality because they fear they have something to lose.) Entitlement leads men to think that they can do whatever they want.
Second, the Bro Code tells those guys that they’re right – that they can get away with it because their bros won’t challenge or confront them. The bonds of brotherhood demand men’s silent complicity with predatory and potentially assaultive behavior. One never rats out the brotherhood. But if we see our female friends as our equals, then we might be more likely to act ethically to intervene and resist being a passive bystander. (And, of course, we rescue our male friends from doing something that could land him in jail for a very long time.)
Men’s silence is what perpetuates the culture of sexual assault; many of the excellent programs that work to engage men suggest that men start making some noise. We know the women, or know people who know them. This is personal.
Finally, we’re better than that – and we know it.
Sexual assault is often seen as an abstraction, a “bad” thing that happens to other people: Bad people do bad things to people who weren’t careful, were drunk or compromised. But, as I said, it’s personal. And besides, this framing puts all the responsibility on women to monitor their activities, alcohol consumption, and environments; if they don’t, whose fault is it?
This sets the bar far too low to men. It assumes that unless women monitor and police everything they do, drink, say, wear etc., we men are wild, out of control animals and we cannot be held responsible for our actions.
Surely we can do better than this. Surely we can be the good and decent and ethical men we say we are. Surely we can promise, publicly and loudly, the pledge of the White Ribbon Campaign (the world’s largest effort to engage men to end men’s violence against women): I pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls.
Our friends – both women and men – deserve and expect no less of us.
Here’s a random creepy fact: one of the tunes that float out of ice cream trucks all summer is a racist song called “Nigger Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!,” first recorded 1916 or before. Have a listen.
During slavery, the African population’s supposed taste for watermelon was used to suggest that they were stupid. As I wrote in an earlier post:
…defenders of slavery used the watermelon as a symbol of simplicity. African Americans, the argument went, were happy as slaves. They didn’t need the complicated responsibilities of freedom; they just needed some shade and a cool, delicious treat.
Googling around, I learned almost nothing about the song. It seems clear that it’s not an inside joke between Black people, making fun of the stereotype. Instead, it’s an earnest, intended-to-be-humorous song meant to make fun of Black people. But I could find little contextualizing information. I also don’t know if the tune was also set to other lyrics that were or weren’t racist.
Still, the fact that the tune is an ice cream truck classic reveals how our racist history is still part and parcel of our everyday lives.
As the nation weeps for the victims of the horrific bombing in Boston yesterday, one searches for lessons amid the carnage, and finds few. That violence is unacceptable stands out as one, sure. That hatred — for humanity, for life, or whatever else might have animated the bomber or bombers — is never the source of constructive human action seems like a reasonably close second.
But I dare say there is more; a much less obvious and far more uncomfortable lesson, which many are loathe to learn, but which an event such as this makes readily apparent, and which we must acknowledge, no matter how painful.
It is a lesson about race, about whiteness, and specifically, about white privilege.
I know you don’t want to hear it. But I don’t much care. So here goes.
White privilege is knowing that even if the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be white, his or her identity will not result in persons like yourself being singled out for suspicion by law enforcement, or the TSA, or the FBI.
White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening, or threatened with deportation.
And white privilege is being able to know nothing about the crimes committed by most of the terrorists listed above — indeed, never to have so much as heard most of their names — let alone to make assumptions about the role that their racial or ethnic identity may have played in their crimes.
White privilege is knowing that if the Boston bomber turns out to be white, you will not be asked to denounce him or her, so as to prove your own loyalties to the common national good. It is knowing that the next time a cop sees you standing on the sidewalk cheering on runners in a marathon, that cop will say exactly nothing to you as a result.
White privilege is knowing that if you are a student from Nebraska — as opposed to, say, a student from Saudi Arabia — that no one, and I mean no one would think it important to detain and question you in the wake of a bombing such as the one at the Boston Marathon.
And white privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.
In short, white privilege is the thing that allows you — and me — to view tragic events like this as merely horrific, and from the perspective of pure and innocent victims, rather than having to wonder, and to look over one’s shoulder, and to ask even if only in hushed tones, whether those we pass on the street might think that somehow we were involved.
It is the source of our unearned innocence and the cause of others’ unjustified oppression.
That is all. And it matters.
Tim Wise is among the most prominent anti-racist writers and educators in the United States. The author of six books on race in America, he has spoken on over 800 college and high school campuses and to community groups across the nation. His new book, The Culture of Cruelty, will be released in the Fall of 2013.