A culture is not a party
Imagine that you’re at a party. Music is playing, alcohol is flowing and suddenly, some people arrive in blackface. The other members of the party continue about their business, seemingly unfazed. No one speaks up; no one asks for the blackface to be removed. Some people might even laugh.
This might sound like a scene straight out of the 1920s, but it happened just last week, when the UCLA chapters of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) fraternity and the Alpha Phi sorority made headlines after photos emerged of members wearing blackface, dressed up in chains and oversized clothing at a “Kanye-Western” themed party.
Racist incidents like these are nothing new. This spring, the UC Davis chapters of the Sigma Chi fraternity and Alpha Phi were asked to apologize after holding a culturally insensitive “Phiesta” party. The women’s lacrosse team also found itself embroiled in controversy this spring, after senior lacrosse players dressed up in checkered shirts, baggy pants and mustaches along with a sign that read “Los Señ(i)ors.” Last spring, some employees of the CoHo organized “Cinco de Drinko,” complete with a Facebook event page that included a picture of four male students trying to hop a chain-link fence while two females in Border Patrol uniforms watched on.
These are not isolated events. These are occurrences of cultural appropriation stemming from institutionalized racism, and the Editorial Board demands that the University of California (UC) come up with a better solution to combatting the intolerance and ignorance that plagues our campus. Enough with the canned formal apologies that the offending party issues after every racist decision. If people were truly sorry, if they truly had learned their lesson, why do these incidents continue?
It’s because women who dress up as Mexicans for senior pictures do not have to worry about being pulled over and having their citizenship questioned. It’s because men who dress in blackface can take the blackface off after the party and walk home without fear of being shot by the police for wearing a hoodie. It’s because the UC system does not do enough to hold these students accountable for their actions; it’s because the UC system doesn’t put enough energy into educating its students about why cultural appropriation damages and hurts our community. For all the talk about how diverse the UC is, the fact that incidences like these continue to occur show us that there is not enough education on cross-cultural communication being done.
Students also need to hold each other accountable. The UCLA SigEp chapter states on its Facebook page that the organization promotes “leadership, service, and academic excellence through brotherhood.” Where was this leadership when people arrived in blackface? Where was this leadership when the party was being planned? If you go to a party and choose not to call out the racist themes you see, you are perpetuating the casual racism that makes students of color feel unsafe on campus. With Halloween coming up soon, the Editorial Board expects to see a slew of other culturally insensitive costumes, from the sexy geisha to the Cherokee princess to the Arab sheik. We encourage students to be culturally conscious when picking out a Halloween costume and to keep in mind the effects their decisions may have.
The Editorial Board believes that we, as a university, can do more to make all students feel safer on campus. We believe that the UC system must do better. Not soon, not in the future, but now.