Time for a Sit-Down

Rebekah Hwang/Guardian

For the sake of finding another reason to party, themes can get understandably ridiculous. In our day, we’ve seen Robots vs. Animals, Librarians and Barbarians, Pedophiles and Children, the Church of Fierce and Marie Antoinette, to name a few.

That said, how a bunch of frat guys — apparently bored/stoned into ogre-ishly poor judgment one fine afternoon in their Regents apartment complex — thought it a clever idea to plan a “Compton Cookout” in honor of Black History Month is completely lost on us. And, frankly, makes us embarrassed we share the same campus.

The Feb. 15 event was spread between several Regents condos, recreating a sort of “ghetto.” Males were encouraged to wear “XXXL” T-shirts, and the Facebook invite instructed females: “For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth … and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture. They also have short, nappy hair, and usually wear cheap weave … They look and act similar to Shenaynay, and speak very loudly, while rolling their neck, and waving their finger in your face. Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words … .”

Event planners even promised to serve “dat Purple Drank- which consists of sugar, water, and the color purple , chicken, coolade, and of course Watermelon.”

In response to the event, a spontaneous Campus Black Forum was called on Tuesday. The Thurgood Marshall Room in Price Center was packed with minority students and faculty, along with the few A.S. and Greek representatives brave enough to weather the outrage. Even the likes of Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Life Penny Rue and Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Life Gary Ratcliff showed up.

Above all, students expressed hurt. Hurt that a group of boys and girls with no personal experience as a historically oppressed people would find it in its interests to poke fun at economic disadvantage. The discussion led to much larger issues of racial misunderstanding and underrepresentation on campus, and hurt, of course, turned to anger, trying to find a target, somebody to blame — some admissions committee member who held the key to accepting more black students, or some A.S. councilmember who could pull the plug on outlets of hate speech under the council’s jurisdiction (read: the Koala).

This is an extreme case because the theme maliciously links itself to a month meant to represent progress, but racial-stereotype parties aren’t anything new; “South of the Border” is a popular one. It’s also worth mentioning that the definition of “ghetto chicks” is copy-pasted from UrbanDictionary.com. Aside from the obvious moral distaste here, free-speech protection laws — and the fact that the party wasn’t officially affiliated with UCSD — will most likely protect the perpetrators from harsh formal punishment. For reasons that we should be proud of, a bunch of kids throwing a questionably themed party do indeed have the “right” to do so.

In addition, no amount of listserv tsk-tsking from the chancellors or apologetic press releases from the Inter-Fraternity Council can hope to affect the obvious mental shortcomings of the bros in question. Chances are, they’re racist for lack of exposure — not to mention a down-to-Earth schooling in modern-day race relations and how they’ve reformed. We’re all products of our situation. The sad fact is, a mere 2 percent of the UCSD student body is black; the idea behind this particular party was obviously birthed from a lifetime of Lil Jon videos and Dave Chapelle stand-up — with which the droning, hyper-academic Dimensions of Culture reader apparently couldn’t compete.

Satisfying as it would be in painful circumstances such as these, restricting freedom of press or creating loopholes in admissions are obviously dangerous for other reasons. And even if the A.S. Council balled up and zero-funded the Koala, or the administration took the legally risky leap of expelling the students who planned this party, we would have essentially just expelled their misunderstanding to the outside (and bred resentment in the meantime). The world would still be plagued by their shortcomings. Southern California, in particular, is already rife with rich kids who have never held a conversation with someone on the other end of their privileged humor.

Campuswide Senator Bryant Pena has adopted the Compton Cookout and its campus-climate implications as his latest pet project. At last night’s A.S. Council meeting, he proposed a small committee of leaders — from the Cross-Cultural Center, the IFC, the A.S. Council and other diversity-centered organizations on campus — charged with taking “concrete” steps to mending racial divisions at UCSD.

But can another bickering boardroom really hope to permeate such a long tradition of ignorance? Plus, as Associate Vice President of Diversity Affairs Jasmine Philips put it, committee members “don’t want, like, thousands of people showing up.”

There is also some merit to Campus Black Forum proposals that students be required to take more multicultural prerequisites, but oftentimes the jargon and tight-assed political correctness of diversity academics doesn’t translate the capitalism-locked racial disadvantage and upper-class (mainly white) sense of privilege that ultimately prevents equality and understanding.

So we are inclined to say, at the risk of sounding like President Obama, that maybe the administration can come in and ask the students who planned the event to simply sit down with those that were hurt by it (beer optional). It’s a lot more difficult to maintain the cocky devil-may-care attitude when you’ve got someone who does care staring right back at you.

Hurtful stereotyping on this campus was a problem long before the Compton Cookout. It’s hard to talk about in a way that won’t send righteous free-speechers like the Koala into a self-important lather. They don’t want to sacrifice their adrenaline rush or sense of power — or, god forbid, their First Amendment right to be edgy pigs — to give a shit about the way it’s affecting those not so lucky to have derived the same sense of jaded snarkiness from life. Racial-humor diehards argue that stereotypes are only funny because they’re true. But there are different extremes; good racial humor is posed in a way that makes fun of racist people. And in the end, there’s just no way one can understand the feeling of being a stereotyped minority without having been there. Even for those minority students that argue they’re personally not bothered by the slurs — that’s really great for them, but their comfort makes no difference if others still feel uneasy.

The cookout’s humor is purely discriminatory, posed by an isolated social class with no real experience being poor or spat on by the system. (Admit it, PIKE — you’re overwhelmingly white and loaded.) Even if planners didn’t mean it maliciously, there’s whole bunch of go-dumb invitees snickering at their laptop screens — or Koala readers who misinterpret the satire (in the case that there is some) — who then think it’s OK to be blatantly racist. No wonder there’s no black students here. When the minority population at UCSD is disgusted to the point of not wanting to put up with this environment, cheap laughs seem a large price to pay.

No racial topic or slur should be off-limits or hush-hush, but it should all be understood; the concept of purple drank is funny, but it’s also a product of a poor-stay-poorer national crisis. If that’s funny to you, you’re lucky. But at least grow the balls to defend your humor, face to face, to someone who’s not feeling it so much.