Friday, February 26, 2010

"Post-Racial" America and "ghetto" parties

Guest post from former intern and blogger Kat

This morning I received an email saying that on the 7th floor of Geisel Library--the school library for UCSD--a noose was found with the intent to terrorize African-American students.

The story does not begin here; this is only the latest development in a series of blatantly racist speech acts committed against the African American student body on campus.

Back to the beginning.

Last Friday, February 19th, my morning started with a text message calling for action that read, "EMERGENCY!!! Everyone meet at Library walk at 9am! Wear BLACK! ENOUGH is ENOUGH! WAKE UP AND GO! WE'RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER! Spread this now!! Details later."

I'm a super-senior at UCSD. Because of the recent anti-UC fee hikes protests I thought this probably had something to do with that. (The University of California recently increased tuition 32% essentially forcing students from low-income families to withdraw from school.) But because of university-wide emails I'd gotten recently about a "Compton cookout" party that asked people to come dressed in stereotypical “black attire”-- I wasn’t entirely sure. Compton is a low income largely (minority---African American or Latino might be a better word choice but I’m not familiar with the city or area in San Diego, I had thought that the students were imitating the city of Compton in south central Los Angeles) neighborhood of San Diego.

The protest was not about fee hikes. According to NBC News, the invitation encouraged women to come dressed as “ghetto chicks,” which the invite explained, “Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes." All students were asked to dress "ghetto"

(I found out later that day that the party invitation also said something to the effect that it was "being held in honor of black history month." “In honor of black history month” Are you kidding me??)

There is so much wrong with that party it's hard to know where to start--but its pretty easy to start with IT IS RACIST. It's racist because it reifies a homogenized, stereotypical image of African Americans as poor and "gangster". It’s racist because it blatantly mocks the communal, historical struggle against racism as well as the lives that were lost and destroyed in the efforts to overcome this struggle. It refuses to acknowledge individual personalities; the dreams that each individual has for their future and for the future of their children to be treated as equals in US society. The party was SEXIST because it (explain reason here, something similar to how you explained why its racist in your opinion) The event was CLASSIST because it makes fun of poverty without taking into account how people actually struggle. (It feeds into that "protestant work ethic" ideology that people are poor because they don't work when poor people REALLY DO work so hard to get by, much harder than members of the privileged classes.)

I wish I had taken notes or at least pictures--but more importantly, as I'm looking through the news coverage of the event, I'm becoming angry because much of what the news is saying is JUST. PLAIN. WRONG. Luckily someone posted a series of youtube videos that document what happpened.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived on campus was that the group of students gathered together on Library Walk were mostly African American or Chican@/Latin@. The reason why this stuck out is because the UCSD student body is mostly White or Asian--less than 2% of the student body is African American, while approximately 10% of the student body is Chican@/Latin@ (according to the statistics I found for 2002--couldn't find anything more recent.) Due to this population imbalance, the campus most of the time seems like one big white place--thus, seeing so many people of color together was very much out of the norm. (It really shouldn't be. At the same time, it was really depressing that there weren't more White or Asian people there--injustice to some is an injustice to all.)

There were also camera teams; everyone in the group was dressed in black; they chanted "Real Pain! Real Action!" Some were holding each other, hugging while tears streamed down their faces.

The Chancellor and Vice Chancellor stood in front of the crowd, faces somber. With news cameras in their faces, they began speaking with many of us in the back wondering what was being said because they were so quiet. Quietly addressing the news cameras rather than directing their comments to the student present made me wonder about the power dimensions shown in this instance. Not only were the voices "legitimated" by news cameras recording the voices of white, upper class women who represented the official USCD stance, but because we couldn't hear what they were saying, we couldn't shout out disapproval or approval. It reminded me of anthropological erasure: sometimes (in classical anthropology especially) ethnographers don't pay attention to certain voices within a society, and in writing up an account of events, they eventually produce a skewed articulation of what happened.

What happened at this time was that African-American students told the chancellor about a video that appeared the previous night around 11pm on SRTV--UCSD's Student-Run Television station--in which members of the Koala (a student-run "newspaper" on campus) defended the Compton cookout. SRTV doesn't keep tapes of live shows--so there is, as of yet, no video that shows what happened but students who were watching SRTV Thursday night saw students say "you N*** should be grateful, this party was held in your honor." (I found out later that day that the party invitation also said something to the effect that it was "being held in honor of black history month." “In honor of black history month” are you kidding me??)

The Associated Students president pulled the plug on the show, and a note was found in the station that read, "Compton Lynching." That is not only really racist, but it’s a death threat. Students expressed to the Chancellor concern about their safety and a desire to find a copy of the video so as to identify the perpetrators to take punitive actions against them. Students also rightly expressed frustration that their student fees were helping fund and support the Koala, a student-run organization.

The Chancellor hedged on getting a room to show the video--so students chanted, "multipurpose room!"

While the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor ran off to supply a room, an African-American freshman woman took up the bullhorn and told the crowd how in the few months that she'd been at UCSD, she'd already had her car broken into, racist statements made against her--and if this was what happened on campus in just a few months, how could she encourage her little brother to go to college?

After about 20 minutes of waiting, we (were marched by the Chancellor?) marched across library walk, some people with drums and a conch shell to attract attention--we seemed to be led to a secluded area of campus that most students don’t know about. It seemed as though the direction was intentional to keep the grievances quiet so that other people wouldn't find out about what had happened.

We moved again, this time to the fourth floor of the Main food area on campus--Price Center. It was surprising that the room could fit everyone; but at the same time depressing that not more students had come to speak out against the racism that happened.

The Black Student Union presented a list of demands for the University, including: the suspension of the students involved in the racist acts; a permanent task force dedicated to hiring African American faculty and engaging in more outreach efforts to help African-American students in the community; that the University make efforts to increase the amount of African American undergraduate and graduate students as well as PhD candidates; return of the Kumeyaay tribe's burial lands; that the University staff the currently vacant position of coordinator of the African-American studies program; that starting 2011, freshman applications be regarded holistically rather than comprehensively--among other demands.

There was also an awkward moment when the Vice Chancellor tried to rally the students to cheer with her; but it seemed fake and paternalistic. All morning the Vice Chancellor had made statements opposing student’s views.

After all the demands had been read and summarily checked off (by who?) (some were checked off as, "yes," others, "maybe,") time was set aside so that students could gather together as a community, support each other, and talk about what had happened,

To see the events for yourself, check out the YouTube playlist (Unfortunately I don't know who took the videos and can't give them credit).


  • Someone tried having a "compton cookout part deux", to justify the racism using the argument that if, as a society, people are racist against everyone, one racist party shouldn't matter. (Obviously this is a problematic argument.)
  • On the Black Student Union (BSU) facebook group asking that students support the BSU's demands, many students express outrage that black students DARE make such demands. In regards to the "safe spaces" demand, one person wrote something akin to "They should have safe spaces, that way we know where they are; that's what they told us in training" (i.e. If they have a safe space, they could all be gathered together and it would be easier to kill them all.)
  • Wednesday, February 24th: a teach-in/teach out, which many students who attended said was very successful, apart from one teacher's speech that called for everyone to "support their brothers" (Really, was it that hard to add the words, "and sisters"?)
  • Today, Friday February 26, all UCSD students received an email saying that there was a noose found hanging on the 7th floor of the school library. This is a state of emergency.

photo credit: Claudio.Núñez on

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