Members of the UCLA community have responded with outrage to the news that several students wore blackface to a "Kanye Western"-themed fraternity party on Tuesday. Students were photographed wearing baggy clothing, padded lips and butts, and charcoal makeup on their faces and arms. The party, which was hosted by the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and the Alpha Phi sorority, spurred student protests this past week as members of the Afrikan Student Union started using the hashtag #BlackBruinsMatter in response.
“It’s really jolting for freshman students," Alicia Frison, a member of the ASU told The Daily Beast. "In their second week here, they’re seeing these images of what it’s like to be black on this campus. It reinforces self-doubt as a student, and as a human being, that you don’t even have dignity in a place where you were picked out to be the cream of the crop.”
Much of the criticism involving the racially charged party theme started after students who attended the mixer posted pictures online. Following public outcry, both of the Greek chapters have had activities temporarily suspended. "Just because you can do something, does not mean you should,” read a statement released by UCLA following the party.
Since this is the year 2015, it seems like it should be unnecessary to have a discussion on why using a race or culture as a theme for a costume party is offensive. It also seems repetitive to explain what the concept of cultural appropriation is. But, judging by these photos, which feature girls dressed as Kardashians and wearing baggy clothing, apparently these lessons haven't been learned.
But even if the students don't understand the concept of cultural appropriation or why blackface is very, very wrong, the most confusing aspect is how they didn't realize that they would get in trouble. We're talking about college educated adults here, who have plenty of access to Google, who surely must have heard about negative reactions to racially themed parties in the past, right?
As troubling as these students' actions were, they aren't exactly novel. College students have been hosting sexist and racist themed parties for quite awhile now. A simple Google search yields a handy compilation by Mic, featuring 12 recent examples of Greek parties with a culturally appropriating theme. Among the examples are a "MLK Black Party" held at Arizona State University, a Mexican-themed party thrown by the Kappa Sigma chapter at Duke University, and a "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos" bash hosted by Phi Sigma Kappa at Cal Poly State University.
Just last year, an entire fraternity was suspended after a video tape of University of Oklahoma brothers singing a song full of racial slurs was released onto the Internet. Time and again, it's the photos posted after the fact that incriminate these students. And each time something like this happens, there is public outcry, Internet backlash, and a refresher of why it is morally wrong to degrade another person or culture by utilizing stereotypes to create a costume.
And once again, it comes down to a question of why. Why can't people celebrate Yeezus without painting their faces? How come students can't enjoy tacos without making border control jokes? And even if these students don't care about the racial ramifications of their actions, why haven't they realized that what they're doing is wrong, and they will be punished? Is the Instagram picture really worth having your student organization shut down and your reputation tarnished forever?
With Halloween fast approaching, there are surely thousands of offensive costumes currently being dreamt up around the country, so let's have a quick refresher, shall we? People are not costumes. Cultures are not costumes. Don't paint your face. Don't change your race. And just to be extra safe, don't dress up as any of these offensive Halloween costumes.