Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Par-TAY!

K. the Brilliant alerted me to the ghetto fabulous party phenomenon:

In October of 2006, law students at the University of Texas-Austin held a “Ghetto Fabulous” party, at which partygoers carried bottles of malt liquor and wore Afro wigs, necklaces with large medallions, and name tags with traditionally black and Latino names such as “Tanika” and “Jesus.” Just a couple of months ago, in January of 2007, white students at Tarleton State University in Texas sponsored a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day party, at which partygoers came dressed in “ghetto” gear, flashed gang signs, ate fried chicken and ribs, and drank malt liquor from bottles. One woman even dressed as Aunt Jemina, red handkerchief in her hair and syrup bottle in hand. For those readers who may view such events as limited only to the South, just a few days later, white students at the University of Connecticut School of Law held a “Bullets and Bubbly” party that featured do-rags, gang signs, gold teeth, and malt liquor.

I don't have much to do with college parties, you know. If you want to check'em out, here's a list from Uncommon Misconceptions:

  • Ghetto Fabulous Party, Cornell University, March ‘04
  • Ghetto Fabulous Party, Univ. of Texas Law School, September ‘06
  • Tacos and Tequila Party, University of Illinois, 10/5/06
  • Halloween in the ’Hood’ Party, Johns Hopkins University, 10/28/06
  • Gangsta Party, Clemson University, 1/14/07
  • Martin Luther King Party, Tarleton State College, 1/15/07
  • Martin Luther King Party, University of Arizona, 1/15/07
  • Bullets and Bubbly Party, U. Conn. Law School, ~1/20/07
  • South of the Border Party, University of Santa Clara, 1/29/07
  • South of the Border Party, University of Delaware, 5/5/07

Although not a new phenomenon, it seems that over the last year "ghetto," "gangsta," "south of the border" and "taco and tequila" parties have become college chic and cool. Parties at more than a dozen colleges and universities received national coverage in the past year, with countless others going unnoticed save for the pictures posted to sundry websites. It is tempting to interpret such events as clich├ęd racist expressions. They are, after all, contemporary minstrel theaters that allow middle- and upper-class white Americans to cross moral and social boundaries by racial cross-dressing. But such easy explanations keep us from fully appreciating the circumstances on today's college campus that make minstrel parties pleasing and powerful for so many.
If there is a sensibility to which I have an exceedingly strong aversion, it is that of certain middle-to-upper-class whites. This sensibility is characterized by entitlement, by self-satisfaction, by a preening adoration of self that is nauseating. Its fascination with itself is endless, and it finds even in its flaws an unending source of gratification, boasting of its ignorance and charmed by its egotism. It's the sensibility of people who have never grown up. They got stuck, mentally and morally, in toddlerhood. Which explains the aggressive lack of compassion and empathy, and the failure to understand why what they do is reprehensible.

Oh, it all fits. Why did the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee boycott the hearing on the Jena 6? Why did the Republican presidential candidates pull an FTA on Tavis Smiley? Because they refuse to admit there are other people in the world. But I digress.

In many respects, ghetto-fabulous parties are the culmination of conservative politics on college campuses. They reflect the ongoing insecurities of whiteness in the wake of the civil rights movement and the supposed prominence of multiculturalism and political correctness.

I am sick unto death of the term "politically correct." As far as I am concerned, it is a fabrication of small-minded bigots. What the bigots protest is the curtailing of their freedom to be disrespectful without ceasing to everyone they deem inferior, and that includes all women and all non-white people. Why is it so difficult to treat all people with respect? That was a rhetorical question, but I will answer it: it is difficult, nay, it is impossible, to treat respectfully people for whom you have contempt, particularly when the basis of your contempt is that they are not like you. (No matter that we did not none of us choose to have male bodies or female bodies, we did not none of us choose our skin color nor our geography nor our social class, we all just ended up who we are and where we at.)

Indeed, ghetto-fab parties are part of a broader reactionary movement that believes whiteness and the ivory tower are being imperiled by political correctness, radical professors and "minority rights." Pushing against these perceived evils, conservative students have organized political theatrics on campuses, holding "affirmative-action bake sales" and offering "white-only" scholarships. They have in essence created a culture today in which those with power think of themselves as victims and those without become targets for violence.
The plight of the privileged white person is sorry indeed.
"Decrying the ghetto party as 'modern-day minstrelsy' is surely an expression of righteous indignation, but it is only the beginning of the story rather than the end," argues Dr. Jared Sexton, an assistant professor in African American Studies at UC Irvine. "The persistent challenge is to understand why the perverse pleasure of cross-racial caricature and its disavowed currents of mockery, ridicule, envy and hatred are so powerfully attractive to its participants-participants who, as a rule, rely on the dynamics of racial segregation that have produced the ghetto for the very form and substance of the most public and the most intimate aspects of their social lives."

The answer is obvious:

To be sure, White supremacy and its institutional supports no longer enjoy secure futures. . . .
Says Bernestine Singley, ". . . the hearts and minds displayed in these staged acts of racial assault reveal a breathtaking, even heartbreaking, wall of denial, contempt, and cowardice."

Contempt and cowardice sums it up, I think. The same people strutting around at the ghetto fabulous parties? They are the ones who clutch their purses when a Black man walks by, who are afraid to go into Black neighborhoods, who get twitchy if they are not in the majority at all times. They are right to be scared. The world, it is a-changin'.


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