Can Silly Student Behaviour lead to Institutional Racism in Universities?

by saaamieh on February 4, 2014 - 12:11pm

During the recent Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in the United States, students part of a fraternity in an Arizona University decided to celebrate in a unique and possibly offensive way. Arizona State University holds a population of more than 77,000 students. Only 5% of the school’s population are black. On January 22nd, a national holiday in the states, commoderating Martin Luther King Jr., a fraternity group held a party where ‘non-black’ students mocked stereotypical black culture. They did this by sporting loose jerseys, displaying gang signs and drinking out of watermelon designed cups. A number of photos were posted on social media sites like ‘Instagram’ and ‘Twitter’. This event sparked both outrage and disbelief in civil rights leaders as well as in other students on campus. This issue attracted so much attention that it was broadcasted on CNN, and University officials had to get involved. Operations regarding the fraternity were suspended and many people requested the expulsion of the student involved. In the article, Santos adds that Arizona was one of the last states to constitute the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Some people may have believed it was all blown out of proportion, but was it? One Hispanic student said, “I understand why people are upset but, the question I ask myself is whether these same people find it racist when someone throws a white trash party on the 4th of July.

The moral claims identified in this article are things like; treat others the way you want to be treated. The students who participated in the party have a non-chalent view on the situation. Moral principles supporting their argument would be: ‘freedom of expression’ & ‘freedom of speech ‘We should have freedom of speech’. ‘Self-expression’. In comparison, the civil rights leaders and a large amount of Americans who heard about the event would have moral principles like; ‘mocking others is wrong’, ‘equality’ etc.

In my opinion, the situation was dealt with well, and in agreement with Rev. Jarrett Maupin, I believe if issues or events like this are not addressed, it could potentially lead to institutional racism. Institutional racism, is a classification of inequality based on race. It can be found in institutions like private businesses, government bodies, and universities. I believe that the students who created and took part of these festivities are both; ignorant and hold prejudice beliefs. The United States has a complicated history involving racism and inequality. If we try to forget our history, I believe we are bound to live through it again. If we toss aside issues like this, and think of it as ‘just a joke’, it can easily turn into institutional racism. In response to what the Hispanic girl said, regarding the white trash party on the 4th of July, I believe she is irrelevant. The difference between the ‘MLKBlackout’ party, and a white trash party is the people who are celebrating it, as well as their intentions. The question is, ‘where do we draw the line and when is it okay?’


As I was reading this paper, which I think is very good, I couldn't help but think of two quotes by German philosopher Karl Popper. Both are taken from "The Open Society and its Enemies, Vol. 1."

"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them."

"To tell men that they are equal has a certain sentimental appeal. But this appeal is small compared with that made by a propaganda that tells them that they are superior to others, and that others are inferior to them."

I think these sentences sum up the event you are describing quite nicely.

White supremacist ideology has never really disappeared from the US, unfortunately. If anyone has any doubts about that, I highly recommend reading "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness" by Michelle Alexander. The historical moment we are living in right now is particularly vulnerable to exclusionary ideologies like the one in question. In times of economic stress, like right now, the least powerful segments of society are often scapegoated by the powerful in order to redirect populist anger. Keep that in mind when you see Koch-sponsored Tea Party politicians attempting to blame immigrants and the poor for America's problems. Xenophobes like the people you describe are outgrowths of that process.