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Yet another isolated incident: blackface at Stetson University

(I found out about this from Pam Spaulding at Pandagon [2005-11-27].)

Campus life in America

photo: two white members of the women's softball team, in blackface, posing for the camera with gold teeth flashing and hands making gang signs

Stetson University, Halloween 2005

photo: frat brothers, one in blackface, pose a mock lynching.

Oklahoma State, September 2002

photo: white frat brothers, one in blackface, pose with the student in blackface kneeling on the floor and a student dressed as a cop pointing a prop gun at his head. Ole Miss, Halloween 2001.

Ole Miss, Halloween 2001.

photo: white Beta Theta Pi frat brothers flash gangsta poses in blackface. Auburn, Halloween 2001

Auburn, Halloween 2001.

photo: white frat brothers, one dressed in Klan robes and one in blackface, stage a mock lynching. Auburn, Halloween 2001.

Auburn, Halloween 2001.

This Halloween, the (mostly white) women’s softball team at Stetson University in Florida decided to live it up by dressing as the (mostly Black) women’s basketball team for an off-campus Halloween party. Some of the nice little details that they decided to add to their costume included: gold teeth, corn rows, thug poses for photos. Oh, and also blackface makeup.

We’re told by a student from the campus who knows them that I do not think the girls were trying to be racist; I honestly believe that they do not understand what they did. That’s probably true. It’s also very sad. Fortunately, though, careless ignorance of recent American history and blackface fun-and-games at college Halloween parties aren’t at all pervasive or common among affluent white college students. This is, of course, just an isolated incident; it’s not like there is any kind of festering racism in the American campus culture at all. Nothing to see here, citizen; move along.

Completely unrelated links

Historical note, free of facile sarcasm

I don’t just say this because I know people in the Auburn fraternity system who are not the sloped-brow, amoral, reactionary meatheads that the Greeks’ history on Auburn’s campus might lead you to believe they would have to be–although this is definitely true; I have friends in the fraternity system who neither have nor want any part of that mindset. I also say it because I really regret that the meatheads that were directly involved will probably never understand just what they did wrong. They will understand that they did some dumb things that got them caught. And they may look back and grumble at the P.C. Thought Police Bastards who ruined their college career. But will they ever understand that there really was a very deep cut of wilful cruelty in what they did? They didn’t put on those costumes in order to be malicious racists (although I believe that there was certainly some overt malice involved). They put them on to have a roguish bit of fun, that old irreverant frat boy panache. Meaningless images of MTV gangstas and some documentary on the Klan they saw in school or on the History channel–trivial, ultimately, like the whole flux of images across our consciousness. Anything can be funny, right? If you don’t really go out and attack Black people, the images don’t mean anything, do they?

But words, images, costumes, historical scripts do mean something; they mean a hell of a lot. The images and rituals, the signs of white supremacist brutality in this country have a meaning, a meaning they are rooted to by centuries of blood and chains. But we live in an age in which the detached image and the spectacle is omnipresent, and yet the prevailing laid-back liberal ideology tells us that we have no reason to care, indeed, that if we do care it’s a sign of pretentiousness, humorlessness, a general need to lighten the hell up. And it’s slowly, surely killing our conscience, eating away at the possibility of being moral agents. Which has what to do with frat boys in Klan robes? I really fear that this soul-killing laid-back liberalism, the impetus behind the costumes in the first place, will also cripple the boys at Beta and Delta Sig from ever understanding what they did wrong, the cutting cruelty that they were willing to ignore in order to have a laugh. Just as much as their hate party outrages me against them, what it means also saddens me for them.

— GT 2001-11-14: One down, one to go…

The worst part about it all are the smiles. The goofy, clueless, happy-go-lucky grins of white college students who don’t understand a goddamned thing about what they’re doing, and just don’t care.

photo: Jolly Nigger Mechanical Bank. A bank shaped like a grotesque caricature of a black man's torso, with huge bright-red lips, bug-eyes, and an outstretched hand

This is a picture of a Jolly Nigger Bank. During the 1880s these were a remarkably popular mechanical bank for children; place a coin on the black man’s hand and he pops it into his mouth as his bug-eyes roll back into his head. the Jolly Nigger Bank was just one of hundreds of popular children’s toys, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that used grotesque caricatures of Black people, based on the images and conventions of blackface minstrel shows. It’s hard to believe, today, how pervasive these images were: they were everywhere, not just in children’s toys but also staples of the most popular forms of music and theater, film, cartoons, even advertising brands for everything from pancake mix to washing powder. Blackface caricatures surged in popularity in the decades after Reconstruction, and continued well into the 1940s before the rise of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s did it in. Blackface imagery was a pervasive feature of American pop culture for over a century, a feature intimately connected with casual racism, militant white supremacy, lynch law, race riots, and Jim Crow (you may recall that the system of segregation was itself named after America’s first known minstrel show stock character.

Now, there are two different ways that horrible things can end in the wake of coordinated cultural pressure. The privileged can remember them, and take responsibility for them, as hateful reminders of a shameful past. Or the privileged can do their best to pretend that they never existed, avoid mentioning them for fear of giving offense, drop them down the memory hole in the name of propriety, and drive them into the cultural underground rather than addressing them in the daylight.

Affluent whites in America — that same college-educated professional class that we daily hear praising itself and berating the redneck, reactionary white working class — decided to do the latter, not the former, with blackface when Black people made it clear that they weren’t going to stand for it anymore. Down the memory hole they sent it, and they taught that response — by not teaching that history — to their kids. You are seeing the affects of that decision on white college kids’ consciousness with every passing school year.

17 replies to Yet another isolated incident: blackface at Stetson University Use a feed to Follow replies to this article

  1. Diane

    I am so tired of “they didn’t know” or “they didn’t mean anything by it.” If these girls are so ignorant of the problems of African Americans in their own country, what the hell are they doing in a university? That is mighty ignorant–too ignorant for an institution of higher learning.

— 2006 —

  1. ferrarisk8r

    are you kidding me? maybe if so many blacks were not so goddamn ignorant, then the rest of us would not act as we do. Why is it that so many blacks can not, or will not, speak REGULAR english? I believe that english is our language and all immigrants, black or otherwise, need to speak the friggin language our founding fathers used to write the constitution. So what is kids still do black face? you dont hear us bitch when the blacks do white face do you? get over your self

  2. Jenn

    Ferrarisk8r, you have to be joking. You just have to be, there is no way in hell that anyone could be as ignorant as you sound right now.

    That being said, I agree with Diane: ignorance is no excuse. These students are excused to some degree by incessant references to ignorance — as if any American who lives in today’s era could be or should be ignorant of racism, caricatures and slavery.

    Ignorance still tells the victim of racism to suck it up and deal. We end up coddling the perpetrator (hoping to educate them) rather than punishing the crime.

— 2007 —

  1. sexyla27

    First of all english came from England not here it is not our native tongue and probably not even urs..so why is it ok for us to travel to other countries and not learn their langauge b4 we go there but they have to learn ours when they get here..that’s ignorant. Blacks aren’t ignorant to anything it’s people like u that choose to see things wrong with other people instead of accepting the best in someone. It is so sad to me that race classification started out as a scientific way to identify people of multiple skin colors, and has progressed over the years to this cesspool of evilness. Any racist person needs to get over themselves and stop being jealous of the positive differances that people offer to one another. Our founding fathers may have found this place but it took other races to build and to keep it thriving all of these 100’s of years…If i could have met the founding fathers i’d tell them to go dig in a cave somewhere on their own land to find all the jewels, and gold they went looking for in the first place. Their nothing but a bunch of rapists of the natural world..and alas i still love America only because we will soon be the Majority..hahha Haters that’s all they are…

  2. K. Cain

    Jenn…

    look at the pictures in this article. Ferraisk8r isn’t ignorant. He’s racist.

    Dude clearly knows what he’s saying because he’s replying to this article.

  3. Concerned

    OK, I will have to say that dressing up as KKK members could very likely be racist. But as for the women’s softball team at Stetson University dressing up as members of an all black softball team, well I’m not sure that would be considered as racist. I don’t know all the facts, but I do know that on Halloween most people dress up as someone they admire (Elvis, Superman, Spider man, John Wayne – “The Duke”. even Uncle Sam, and the list goes on). Could it be that maybe they dressed up as black players because they have great admiration for them? If I dressed up as Sammy Davis Jr. it would be because I consider him as one of Americas’ greatest actors of all times (right up there with John Wayne & Harrison Ford), it would not be because I’m a racist.

    Now as for the English language, What is REGULAR English anyway? I have traveled all over this Great Country and everywhere I go people speak a little different English. Is it potatoes or patotoes? Or maybe it’s just plane tators. Apparently Ferrarisk8r has never been out amoung the people of this Great Country and never been exposed to the different cultures which make this country Great. I actually feel sorry for people like Ferrarisk8r who really have no idea what makes America “The Land of The Free”. Now with that said, I will aggree that although the United States has no official language at the federal level, English is the de facto National Language. Knowledge of English is required of immigrants seeking Naturalization. About 85% of the American population speak some form of English and if the other 15% would learn the English language, maybe we could all understand each other a little better. Or maybe we should all learn the TRUE North American Language. Now let’s see, would that be Apache, Cherokee, Navajo or one of the many other languages spoken be the True Native Americans? My point is that it would be a lot easier if everyone could understand what each other was saying and that it would only make sense to learn English along with the other 85% of the population.

  4. asdfjkl;

    well first off, stop complaining blacks say so much stuff about white people and mock them in plenty of ways saying they cant jump or dance and how we’re all stuck up but the minute a white person dresses up as a black person for halloween its offesnsive and racist. blacks also have the united negro college fun but if white had a college fund it would be racist. blacks have black history month if whites had white history month it would be racist. you have black pride day if whites had white pride day it would be racist. everything is a complaint. black people always play the race card and it will always be that way.

  5. Jon

    Ferrarisk8r, I think that if you truly attempted to look at language with any objective approach, you would find that we are not all standard speakers of English ourselves and that your term “regular English” is a politically-motivated one. By saying that African Americans don’t speak “regular English”, you are ignoring the fact that they do speak a variety of English (and must even be competent even in standard American English). African-American English varieties are just as complex and rule-governed as any type of standard English that you and I believe we speak (but often don’t). Just tape-record yourself. Did you know that we would have a hard time even understanding how the Founding Fathers spoke. American English was very different back then from how we speak now, and it was even more varied and less standardize during colonial times. Only the elite class of colonists, who spoke and were educated a certain way, were delegates of their respective colonies. I don’t think that there was ever any possibility for Jefferson or Franklin to have included the word “friggin” in the U.S. Constitution, as you did in your post. I think that you have the facts all wrong, ferrarisk8r, so please don’t make any accusations about others being ignorant…

  6. carla

    Dear all concerned about blackface incidents and the “new face of racism.” I found this blog after googling blackface incidents over Halloween 2007 after having a blackface incident and subsequent racism forum at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. You can read about this incident at http://www.amherstlife.blogspot.com If anyone is interested in connecting with people from universities and colleges across the U.S. to assess and confront these incidents please be in touch. Let’s share some ideas. Sincerely, Ready to act.

— 2008 —

  1. No Name No Face

    There are so many great points that have been brought up about the incidents that have occurred. I just thought that I would comment on how it is all apart of who we are, everything that has been stated. In life we expect to move forward not backwards. Adapt and overcome, learn from the past and improve in the future. If we don’t let go of the mistakes of our ancestors we won’t ever improve. Forgive don’t forget! Don’t put blame on anyone today for what has happened in the past. I do believe that every race has prejudice and racist people, not just the blacks and not just the whites. I also believe that it should be necessary to learn the language of another country should you plan on being there for an extended amount of time. If vacationing or visiting another country learn the language should you want to not because you have to.

    There are so many ways that this conversation can go. Yes, I believe that it is wrong to have a united Negro Fund when you can not have a United English, United Scottish, United Mutt (because most americans are) Fund with out it being called racist.

    I believe that it is wrong that I have been teased about being white and it was okay to the ones teasing, but should I have said anything back (which I wouldn’t) I would have been racist and they wouldn’t have been. But I know that not all of the black, mexican, asians, or any other race that I am not will act the same. I didn’t like being called snowflake, cracker, whitey (which I may be “white” but I have color, I’m not a ghost) , and all the other names that I was called. Like I said there are so many ways that this conversation could go, and to be truthful I am at times racist, because deep down I still remember the way it felt, but then I remember why and tell myself that not everyone is like that. We have to be able to move on from this. Stop putting the blame on the whole!!!

    Oh and one last thing, what was written in the constitution may not be completely what WE want to live by, but it was written at a time that it was used for what was thought to be the right reasons at that time, and for the most part I believe that if it were followed with morals not by the loop holes then it might just be held in higher regards.

— 2009 —

  1. Steve-O

    College kids are the future professional class? Give me a break. Far too many people go to college. Incidents like this reflect that fact.

  2. Aster

    I would say that not nearly enough people go to university. What is a shame is that most who go to uni do so primarily to retain inherited social rank, not to develop their minds and talents. Granted, the existing universities structure themselves more for the convenience of the status seekers than for the benefit or the spirited and the curious. But most people learn better with guidance, mentorship, structure, and a community of people with similar intellectual interests. If the established society does not provide such things, then the dispossessed have no choice but to create educational institutions themselves while at a material disadvantage. If the dispossessed also do not create and maintain universities or a functional equivalent, then the open society is dead, and the thugs in those pictures will be conducting vigilante lynchings which will be more deadly than this cruel and tasteless theatre.

  3. Robert Paul

    Aster,

    I would say that not nearly enough people go to university.

    If you’re talking about some hypothetical, ideal university which has no connection to the State, maybe. But if you’re talking about today’s universities, I’d rather they were abolished today than encourage more people to go to them.

  4. Aster

    Robert Paul-

    My view is that there is no hope of achieving a libertarian society without preserving every possible means to a highly and broadly educated populace. The current state-centric university system is certainly less than ideal, but it is far better than the institutions (primarily religious and familial) which would take over were the current universities simply to vanish. We’d lose the Enlightenment have open pogroms and witch-burnings within two generations.

    I certainly hope for better alternatives. I greatly support alternative models of primary education, such as the Montessori or Sudbury models, or Jim Davidson’s recently proposed Individual Sovereign University project.

    Nevertheless, to a certain degree I agree with you: I think the universities of our time are in terrible shape, and the established institutions are so shaky and incompetent that we may simply have to start over from scratch. But if this happens we should be prepared to brace against disaster, not to joyously celebrate.

    I see a dark century before us. Fascinating for those who can safely survive it, perhaps. But horrifying.

  5. Robert Paul

    The current state-centric university system is certainly less than ideal, but it is far better than the institutions (primarily religious and familial) which would take over were the current universities simply to vanish.

    As I posted later in that thread I linked to, I see today’s university system as just another religious institution — so you’re essentially backing a friendlier religion over an unfriendly one. That might make sense in one way, but it doesn’t have much to do with having a truly educated populace.

    Nevertheless, to a certain degree I agree with you: I think the universities of our time are in terrible shape, and the established institutions are so shaky and incompetent that we may simply have to start over from scratch. But if this happens we should be prepared to brace against disaster, not to joyously celebrate.

    I think we should do both. If you mean a given revolution can result in an order even worse than the one that was overthrown, I agree, and this would be a reason to brace against another disaster. But it would be impossible for me not to feel joy at the collapse of the modern university system.

  6. Robert Paul

    Sorry, but I wanted to elaborate a bit more:

    My view is that there is no hope of achieving a libertarian society without preserving every possible means to a highly and broadly educated populace.

    Imagine applying this to the Catholic Church at its peak — i.e., considering the Church to be a “means to a highly and broadly educated populace”. That’s how negative I am about today’s university system.

    I’d say there’s little hope of achieving a libertarian society as long as we treat today’s universities as freethinking centers of education, and not as the hotbeds of religious unreason and propaganda that they actually are.

  7. Aster

    I’d say there’s little hope of achieving a libertarian society as long as we treat today’s universities as freethinking centers of education, and not as the hotbeds of religious unreason and propaganda that they actually are.

    I certainly agree with these values. Could you please elaborate as to why you view today’s universities as you do?

    Also: are you referring primarily or exclusively to American universities?

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