A Student’s Perspective
This is written as an individual student — it does not represent any organization I am affiliated with.
“Anti-blackness” describes how racism has been directed toward black folks in the US. I define “racism” as not necessarily an assertion of racial superiority; it’s a massive and complex system of societal structures and normative behaviors that ultimately privilege white people and oppress black people and other people of color. “Blackface” originated with white actors applying black face paint to mock and dehumanize African Americans over a hundred years ago. Yet the same highly damaging stereotypes: lazy, violent, hyper-sexualized, etc. — still exist to this day.
The “Suit and Tie” video was brought to the attention of a few active community members in the morning. The original video was posted by Lambda Theta Delta’s (LTD) YouTube channel on April 16. To do a video cover of “Suit and Tie,” one of the LTD members applied blackface to act as Jay-Z. The original video description said “DISCLAIMER: No racism intended.” This indicates that the makers of the video at least considered that the video might be considered racist.
During the time that this video went viral, another racist piece of media surfaced and was publicized. It shows two Greek affiliated students holding a paddle with the words “Big Slave Driver [Name] Little Slave [Name].”
Finally, someone found the 2012 Rush Video on the LTD YouTube. In the video, some footage shows that the fraternity had hosted a party where a person donned blackface as a costume/caricature of Antoine Dodson, while another partygoer wore a costume of a sombrero and poncho, ostensibly a “Mexican costume.” At around 3 p.m., Lambda Theta Delta released an apology. I read the statement as deflecting blame onto the individuals and away from the group. While LTD can claim to have been unaware of the development of the “Suit and Tie” video, their official Rush video purposefully included misogyny, Blackface and Mexican stereotypes.
Members of the black community spoke out about the many acts of anti-black racism that have occurred over the past year. This list included a sorority giving an Asian member an award “Most likely to go black and never go back,” a first-year having to move halls after being called the n-word, a black student arrested while walking to campus, black students having trash thrown at them on the way to the gym and other students expressing doubt at black students’ academic competence.
I am an Asian man, so I cannot truly understand the experiences and struggles of Black students. For the many concerned black community members and other students of color, this video is only the latest in a series of disturbing and racist actions. Many believe the fraternity and individuals should be punished in some way, but also that they are not important in the larger scheme. Publicizing the videos and protesting is to focus on a culture that has normalized anti-black behavior, a system that has failed on every level and over and over again to prevent things like this from happening, and a fundamental lack of understanding of how serious anti-black racism is.
Some have said that publicizing the videos is the wrong way and will cause backlash. While I personally prefer a slow and steady education, I can see the urgency and intensity of this. Racist incidents occur every year at UCI, and every time people call for change, a few policies are implemented (and abandoned because they were “too difficult to follow”), and it happens again. Thus, I personally cannot judge negatively those who choose to publicly call out such racist behavior in order to address a larger pattern of anti-black racist behavior.
Some have said that it is wrong to react with anger and to characterize the Greek system in a negative light. I object to this. Firstly, I cannot judge a community for not using the best choice of words when so much oppression has happened. Secondly, the Greek system has shown that it is unreliable at committing to becoming anti-racist (or anti-sexist or anti-homophobic). Thirdly, the Greek system has had an unlimited number of opportunities to educate themselves and each other, yet clearly that education is not taking place, by choice. This is not to say that everyone in Greek is evil and racist. But we can’t move forward without acknowledging that a problem exists.
Some have said that because the individuals do not hate black people and did not intend to do something racist, their actions cannot be considered “racist.” I refute this logic of “intent” over “behavior.” My example: If I accidentally step on your foot, is your foot physically unaffected from being mashed by my shoe because “I didn’t mean to do it?” Many people have not been just offended by these videos — they’ve been hurt.
Blackface has a deeply racist historical and contemporary legacy, and that can be very triggering for people who are already suffering from constant racial micro-aggressions. The “intent” is irrelevant, because the “behavior” has harmed a community. It was a shock for me, but a significant number of people simply didn’t know of the racist history of blackface. I am somewhat concerned that there have been a lot of “innocents” who have felt uncomfortable with the intensity; I don’t wish for these people to be hurt unnecessarily.
Those who are “innocents” in all of this, I hope you understand that ultimately it is our shame of an “education” that denies you the information and history you need to be allies for racial justice. But, I cannot ignore the safety of the community. We as friends, colleagues, brothers and sisters are all still accountable and responsible for responding to things like this in a way that doesn’t further marginalize and shut down those who are the victims here — the black students and other students of color who cannot feel safe at college.
Patrick Chen is a fourth-year informatics major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.