ALAG

I uploaded my Europe pics last night…… feel free to peruse! I promise to write a little about the trip soon, but first I must vent about something that I simultaneously couldn’t believe and yet expected from people at my school……..

I received the following invitation to a party this week (came from someone in my graduate program):

—————————————————-

Hello All!

What better way ring in the new quarter than a good old fashioned theme party!?!

This Saturday, March 31st, join me at my place for the theme party of the year! The theme for the evening will be Stereotype. That’s right, throw away the urge to be politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity and let the urge to judge and categorize shine through! Come as your favorite stereotype!!!

When: The evening of Saturday March 31st. 8:00 pm

Who: You and whoever you want to bring. The more the merrier!

What to Bring: A kick ass costume and the beverage of your choice!

Hope to see you all this Saturday!!

Your theme party lovin’ friend,

—————————————————

Naturally, I was disturbed by the idea of this party……it came from someone I didn’t personally know, but I knew a good number of the other invitees on the email list. Immediately, I thought of the trend of “stereotype” and “politically incorrect” parties that have sprung up at college campuses across the U.S. I conferred with Carmen, and she was kind enough to arm me with an array of Racialicious links documenting these parties from the past year.

So here is the email that I sent out to all the party people:

——————–

Hey, all—I understand that the whole point of this party is to not be politically correct, and in no way am I trying to say what people should or shouldn’t do, but I wanted to point out a trend that has been happening on college campuses that are similar to this party’s theme….. (I’m also not accusing anyone here of any malicious intent.)

I’m sorry to be a wet blanket, but honestly the first thing I thought of when I saw the theme for this party was the “Stereotype Party” that was thrown by students at Tarleton State University (in Texas outside Fort Worth) this year on MLK, Jr. Day. Here’s an article: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,246884,00.html

Also, a “politically incorrect” party at Macalaster had the following costume: “A particular costume choice by two students caught the attention of Paul Maitland-McKinley ’09, president of the student organization Black Liberation Affairs Committee (BLAC). Maitland-McKinley learned of the party last Friday, Jan. 26, from an anonymous student who was present at the party. The costume involved one student dressing as a Ku Klux Klan member, with a second student wearing face paint to appear dark skinned. The costume also included a simulated noose, one end in the hand of the Klan-costumed member, the other end around the student with the blackface’s neck.” (From The Mac Weekly, the student newspaper)

And here are more links about similar parties (with photos) at other universities (Clemson, Texas A&M, UConn, Arizona, William Jewell, Macalaster, Santa Clara, etc.):
http://www.racialicious.com/2007/01/30/clemson-university-students-also-throw-gangsta-party-on-mlk-day/

http://www.racialicious.com/2006/11/14/blackface-at-texas-am-dialogue-not-condemnation-is-needed/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/02/12/university-of-arizona-students-celebrate-mlk-day-with-blackface-party/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/01/26/tarleton-state-and-u-conn-law-celebrate-mlk-with-ghetto-and-gangster-parties/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/02/08/blackface-at-william-jewell-college-and-kkk-costume-at-macalester-college/

http://www.racialicious.com/2007/02/22/santa-clara-university-students-mock-latinos-with-south-of-the-border-party/

I apologize if I’m coming off as an over-sensitive, uptight bee-yotch with no sense of fun, but I felt like I had to say something here. I know that we at the Evans School generally strive to be “politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity” in our day-to-day lives……is being so such a burden?

——————–

I decided to email everyone, because it was Thursday night, the party was on Saturday, and basically my point was not to say, “Don’t have the party, you ignorant racists.” My point was to raise some awareness about these parties that have been going on. Did I think that Evans people were going to show up tomorrow night in blackface? No. Did I think that the party organizer had bad intentions in throwing the party? No. (You know what they say about good intentions, though.) However, having a party where the invitation urges people to “throw away the urge to be politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity and let the urge to judge and categorize shine through” opens the door for all kinds of horribleness. I think a lot of people at our school think that somehow we’re exempt from being in the wrong in these kinds of things, simply because most of us identify as “liberal.” Lighten up! We’re not perpetuating negative stereotypes…..we’re just having fun!

I was encouraged to receive some supportive messages from other Evans students, saying that they hadn’t been aware of the extent of these other parties. But then I received this gem from a person (not an Evans student, but a student at UCLA) who is a friend of the party organizer (emphasis mine):

Sarah,
I believe you are out of line. Not only is your email, sent out in mass to all of [name removed]’s friends, presumptuous and accusatory, it also paints ignorance onto a group of people who are not, in fact, ignorant. I find it ironic that the concerns you raise are connected to remaining sensitive and socially conscious, and yet you have displayed no tact or sensitivity in so proudly reminding others of how they should behave. Parody is often a form of humor that expresses, not acceptance of, or insensitivity to, but resistance to commonly held misperceptions. I also believe that passive aggressive, self-righteous behavior, such as you have displayed, needs to be eliminated more than politically incorrect behavior. I think that emailing [name removed] herself about your concerns would have been an appropriate, and yes less bee-yotchy, way of dealing with the situation. Please consider a less judgmental, more kind way of dealing with your classmates in the future. Calling yourself a wet blanket does not shield readers from realizing you have passed judgment and dampened a social event planned by one of the most sensitive, caring persons I’ve ever met. However, I don’t believe you know that, not being a friends of [name removed]. I am a friend of [name removed] visiting for the weekend. I received your email and found it more offensive than the links you included. If you’d like to come and discuss your views, I would certainly accommodate that.
Cheers,

Nice, right? I’m not sure how expressing my opinion as tactfully as I knew how translates as being passive-aggressive.  What would have been really passive-aggressive would be if I had gone to the party and surreptitiously taken photos and posted them on the internet.  (Not going to do that, though–I do not want to be anywhere near this party on Saturday night!)  I decided against emailing the party organizer alone, because I thought it would be helpful to have everyone who had been invited know about these other parties.  If this makes people think twice about their costume for the party, then I think that’s a good thing.  But I guess I’m getting painted as a bitch in the process.

Ultimately, this has served as a reminder of how disappointed I’ve been in my graduate school experience overall. (More on that later.) I also continue to wonder if Seattle is really a place that I can call “home”…..

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23 Comments

Filed under Politics, Ranting, School Daze

23 responses to “ALAG

  1. That chick was being bee-yotchy.

    You called awareness to an issue, and I’m sure some people just probably never thought of it in that light.

    However, others – like letter chick – believe their right to do as they please is more important than anything else on earth, regardless of who gets hurt in the process.

    *sigh*

    Good luck…sounds like you need it out there…

    -Latoya

  2. “That’s right, throw away the urge to be politically correct, culturally competent, and sensitive to diversity and let the urge to judge and categorize shine through! Come as your favorite stereotype!!!”

    I don’t know how any other way a person can take this call for mirth but in a racist/bigoted way.

    This person should have just thrown away the pretense and let his/her ignorant colors fly by writing, “Come as your favorite spear-chucker/chink/spic/etc.!!!”

    It’s doubly insulting/discouraging that this classmate of yours is enrolled in the school of social work.

    Your email to your fellow classmates is admirable and definitely justified.

  3. amy

    Gross. That pretty much sums it up. Don’t blame Seattle though – You’re going to find that shit everywhere.

    Glad you’re back. Hope you had a great trip. And please tell me that you went to see Wu Tang in Paris.

  4. JR

    That “friend” was out of line, not you. Good activism, Sarah. I think that maybe you might have prevented some “unintentional” but still questionable “stereotyped” costumes at this party. But even if you didn’t, you stood up and didn’t wait for the photos to be displayed all over MySpace.

    And ugh, I’m not surprised that the e-mailer was a social work student. Having just graduated from such a program, there is no doubt that there are many clueless people who gladly turn a “colorblind” eye.

  5. Thanks, everyone, for the supportive words. This situation has been on my mind non-stop since I received the invite.

    Actually, none of the people here are in social work, though….. my program is public affairs/administration…. maybe I would have been better off in social work (or not)?

  6. ben

    hey sarah, my name is ben, i am a UW philosophy grad and the spouse of an Evans alum. your actions seemed quite good and thoughtful and perhaps even more charitable (as we say in philosophy) toward the party organizers than you need have been. i guess if they had offered some examples of non-racist, non-sexist, etc. ways a person could participate in the “stereotype” party I’d have more of an open mind about it–but they didn’t. and you’re right, the language of the invitation reeks of the sorts of racist parties elswhere you identified.

    the best was that email from the friend, though, especially the part of the message that you bolded. this is classic conservative rhetoric! yeah, right, the real problems aren’t racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia, but people who get justifiably angry about these things!

  7. I was thinking about this after you told me about it, and I am SO glad you decided to do this. It would have been easier for you not to say anything at all, or to only e-mail the organizer, but this is one of those things that feels wrong. I mean, when is reinforcing stereotypes ever a good idea?

    This person who replied to you is, seriously, grasping at straws in her interesting little “I know you are, but what am I?” tantrum. And she is supposed to be the more enlightened one because this “theme party” is a PARODY? Riiiiight. Cheap argument.

    What really sucks is that ones has to slather on the apologies and disclaimers pre-emptively in order to have a chance at getting through to some people.

  8. negin

    Please know that there are so many people (and Evans alums like me) who would support and honor your courage for speaking up in a compassionate, thoughtful way. And who would also speak up if they were in your position. I guess maybe it would be good to talk to [party organizer], but she already did the harm to a whole group of people, even if unintentionally — so I think you are right to try to undo some of the harm she’s done through a thoughtful email to the whole group.

    It takes a lot of courage & maturity to call out oppression without condemning the person who sent the invite, which is why I’m so upset to see that friend of the inviter who wrote you back be so clueless. But then again, she only read what she thought you were writing, and not what you actually wrote.

    Boo. I tried (unsuccessfully) to get curriculum about privilege into the Evans program. It so desperately needs it.

  9. parkheidi

    what more can be said? let’s all condemn hitler and then have a party in his honor 😉

    DON’T LEAVE SEATTLE!

  10. Pingback: links for 2007-03-31 at Racialicious - the intersection of race and pop culture

  11. Vox

    It was brave of you to email everyone like that. The organizer’s friend was out of line. Hopefully you’ve managed to prevent some people from making jerks of themselves tonight.

  12. Hey Sarah, I’m really glad you wrote them and find the email responses to you from your classmates really annoying. You were thoughtful in your response to them (don’t know if I would’ve been so nice 🙂 Maybe that one woman (not chick) who “stood up” for her friend by emailing you in front of everyone else felt she was doing a good deed for standing up for her friend. I’d like her to try that UCLA and see what the response is. It is interesting how the only support you received from your classmates was done only to you and not to the whole group but how many people in the group have criticized you in front of everyone else. Not everyone in Seattle is like this! There are many examples within your comment section of people in Seattle who “get it”! Hang in there (3 more months of school left)!

  13. malu

    Hey S-

    It’s been a while, I know. I’m glad you wrote this email to people, and this buffoon from UCLA really just made an ass out of him/herself. It’s unbelievable how telling this person’s defensiveness was. Bigotry masquerading as raceless liberalism, gotta love it.

    I need to talk to you about your grad school experience sometime, maybe we can start emailing again 🙂 I’m experiencing similar frustrations and I need to blog about them. I’m so behind.

    Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that I’m happy you said something. I think you were quite generous with your email, actually… remarkable how people’s defensiveness really speaks to their own guilt and pride.

  14. I am growing weary of contemporary neo-cons’ racial enmity and their rhetorical legerdemains. This is why a fellow student kept a knife with him wherever he went on our small, liberal arts campus. It was big and serrated, like the kind you use to hunt game. The kind Rambo carried. “For when The Revolution begins,” he would say. I usually just glared at everyone and walked with a hulking swagger to keep them distant.

    America has taught me to hate.

  15. Prosehack65

    Grad school: where you learn just how well others can talk the talk (in class) but not walk the walk (in their lives).

    You will no doubt continue to be astounded at the disparity between the two.

  16. Ananse

    That you needed to raise a question meant it was questionable. That the woman needed to respond meant she had doubts herself.

    The real test will come Monday, when you do a head count of how many in that group of individuals are still speaking to you. You’ll probably be receiving less mail, but may receive a link at some point to the photos someone did take at that party, possibly at least one note of regret from someone who did attend, and one note of thanks from someone who didn’t at the last minute or who left soon after.

    You should be able to look around your classes, head held high with no regrets. I’m guessing many will be ducking to avoid your gaze, with shame on their heads and in their hearts. Take no pride in this, but use it as a reality check and a lesson learned.

  17. Jaye

    If you come across photos that are really offensive (blackface, painted on fu manchu moustaches, etc,) why not send them to the companies or other grad programs they’re interviewing or applying to?

  18. Corey

    Wow, totally classless on their part, topped off even more so by the retaliations to your reply. You know, if they plan on working in Seattle, the joke will be on them when they get canned from their first job later on. Sending out an invite to a party like that to people at work would be enough to get fired from any place I’ve worked here!

    By the way, Mary Ann and I have been bad about staying in touch. We need to get together some time!

  19. gar

    How lame… but I’m glad you spoke up. I think many would have done the same.

    Goes to show you how even in “progressive Seattle” certain kinds of thinking and privilege still readily exist… sadly, I’m not too surprised given that graduate school education is readily accessible to only a narrow demographic of people…

    I’m almost inspired to write a couple of my own “fun encounters” as a grad student…

  20. whoa so sorry i’m late on this one…but WHAT THE HELL??????

    “I also believe that passive aggressive, self-righteous behavior, such as you have displayed, needs to be eliminated more than politically incorrect behavior.”

    WHAT?? are they freaking high or something?? Self righteous? how is standing firm against stupid ignorant stereotypes self righteous? isn’t it MORE self righteous to perpetuate stereotypes and assume no one should be offended by them??

    And yes, I do agree that politically incorrect, ignorant behavior should NEVER be eliminated…b/c then we wouldn’t have mother freaking idiots like this dude to make fun of…

    Seriously, i’m slamming my head against my desk right now.

    Good for you for speaking up…seriously~~

  21. sunny

    duuuuuude. it’s funny. i was here (http://voxexmachina.wordpress.com/college-racism-roundup) and ended up here. well, hi.

  22. Pingback: To Willow Janowitz: You’re not alone…. « Outside In . . . And Back Again

  23. Cat

    Cheers! I’m glad you had the courage to stand up and speak your mind. These parties seem to me to be a guise for people to behave in a cruel and insensitive manner. Thank you for standing up against this bullying behavior.

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