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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Racism + Ambiguity = Danger

    Everyone likes to deny the fact, but racism is still rampant in our society. It is just easier to ignore because it is not as blatant. And thus, people are more likely to deny its harmful repercussions.

    Nowhere is this more evident than a recent event that occurred here on our campus. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a UA student decided to throw a theme party for which attendees were supposed to come dressed up as a black person. To UA students, this meant dressing up like gangsters, pimps and hos, if the photos posted on www.facebook.com are any indication.

    This event has received national attention thanks to a posting on Facebook by pre-business freshman Brianna Tarleton, which sheds light on the party’s racist implications. Tarleton reported she “”was most bothered by the fact that people saw dressing up as a black person to be about looking like a gangster or a hooligan.””

    What was even more appalling was the fact that UA students felt the people attending the party were not purposefully trying to be racist. Students thought the attendees probably just wanted to go to another theme party.

    College students should be able to understand that this behavior is racist. Even my 15-year-old brother got that this was not just another theme party. Instead, it has become easier for my fellow UA students to plead ignorance. Furthermore, this ignorance is accepted by everyone else because of the ambiguity of modern day racism.

    Racism is not as black-and-white as it was in the Jim Crow era. There are no longer drinking fountains designated for the use of white people only.

    The racism that exists today is subtler. For example, many businesses say they do not determine who to hire based on race. But seeing as there are only four black CEOs among the Fortune 500 companies, one starts to wonder.

    Furthermore, the subtlety of modern racism makes it much more dangerous and harmful than racism of the past. There are no clear boundaries anymore as to what racism is. And so everyone is free to draw the line based on the situation.

    Eliot Aronson, a world-renowned social psychologist, has shown that when people feel comfortable in a certain situation, they are more likely to exhibit racist behavior. In other words, when a person knows he will not be called out for being a racist, he feels safe to admit his true feelings.

    Many of the UA students that attended the “”black”” party did not think anyone would chastise them for their inappropriate dress and thus felt safe to take the theme and run with it. But just because no one told them it was racist doesn’t make it any less so. Students should understand the party they were attending was a celebration of stereotypes that misrepresent African-Americans.

    You can sit there and blame the media for perpetuating these stereotypes. But there are just as many representations of successful African-Americans in today’s media as there are stereotypical examples. Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama and Will Smith’s character in “”The Pursuit of Happyness”” are just a few of the former.

    Students need to start acknowledging that racism still exists on this campus. Furthermore, they need to start confronting the roles they play in perpetuating racism on this campus.

    Tarleton would have been content if students had taken responsibility for their actions. “”I did not want the people at this party to be punished, but I hope they realize there are consequences to their actions,”” she said. “”Maybe next time they will think twice about doing something like this again.””

    But UA students need to go beyond this. College students are old enough to acknowledge what behavior they should not partake in. Students need to stop relying on ignorance and start taking a more active role in confronting racism.

    And, for goodness’ sake, try coming up with a better theme next time.

    Jessica Wertz is a senior majoring in family studies and human development and psychology. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.edu

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