Thursday, January 24, 2008

Getting Drunk For Dr. King

This rather infamous picture was taken last year at a Gangsta Party on Martin Luther King Day at Clemson University.

Beginners, make your will firm and strong: twenty-four hours a day, wield the sword of positive energy to overcome demons and curses, cutting off psychological afflictions. Look continuously into a saying, and you will spontaneously discover the light of mind, containing heaven and earth, every land completely revealed.


When you try to set your mind to it, you miss it. When you stir your thoughts, you turn away from it. If you do not try and you do not stir, you are living in stagnant water. What do you do?

---Zen saying

The world is a passage back to God, that is the only reason it is here.

---Michael Murphy

A couple weeks ago I wrote on an interest that developed in childhood about faraway places and people of other nationalities and races. I titled it Full Frontal Feminism, after Jessica Valenti's book, because I credit that interest for my involvement in civil rights from the late 1950s on. Almost immediately I heard from a friend of mine here in Athens, who teaches American National Government, The Politics of Law, Constitutional Law, Constitutional Politics, Civil Liberties, and American Political Thought at Ohio University. She urged me to join college faculty around the country to ask students to stay away from "Race Parties" that were being planned by kids. Since they get a day off, why not party on and get loaded to celebrate?

I thought about it for a while and took a look at an invitation to one that was being set up off campus here. It said there'd be plenty of fried chicken and 40 ounce cans of malt liquor, and all the party-goer had to do was dress up as his or her favorite Black stereotype. OK, sounds very American collegiate...but is it any more wrong than that? Were people of Greek derivation angry about Toga Parties? Would I be mad about an Erik The Red party, at which kids would dress up as Swedes in fur rugs and helmets with buffalo horns sticking out---even though I know no Swede actually ever wore such a helmet? Didn't all peoples have to go through this crap when we came to the Land of the Free?

What was the intention of the party? That's what I wanted to know...I mean, besides an excuse to get blasted. Martin Luther King DID like fried chicken, and college kids like to dress up for theme parties. What's the harm---as long as there is a kind of tribute to the culture honored in some way? It bothers me that the minstrel tradition and Amos 'N' Andy, where whites dressed up in black-face (and even some blacks did to emphasize stereotypical features) and spoke in dialect, are looked down on. I mentioned in the previous article about the banning in the United States of Disney's Song Of The South. Isn't all that going too far?

But isn't this different? I admit that I've welcomed the Martin Luther King holiday to finish cleanup from Christmas and recover a bit more from that hectic season. However, our family always spends time listening to the words of Dr. King and usually music inspired by the work that he did and the mission of his life. We reflect on the fact he was assassinated for this here in this country, murdered as were other leaders who advocated Change during that time. I'm not at a place where I could go to a party about such things, unless it were a pretty serious gathering.

Nevertheless, I still wasn't ready to raise a stink about kids having parties. There is something to celebrate about what progress has been made for civil rights. I can get into partying about the contributions of Black Culture. I like it better if there are Black people there and we all enjoy each other. The best parties I ever went to were the mixed explorations we enjoyed in the mid-60s. Will I ever forget 50 people packed in my living room, dancing to 45s until dawn, and then out came the vacuum cleaner and everybody cleaned the whole place before going home? How about that barbecue at Shugie's front lawn in Greenwich, and the low lights and Arthur Prysock LPs indoors? Man, celebrating race can be beautiful!

But then I read an article in yesterday's Athens Post, the student newspaper of OU. It was written by a junior at the School of Journalism named Alissa Gilbert. It moved me. I emailed her at once and asked permission to paste it all over the Internet. She graciously consented. Here it is~~~

Maybe its Just Me: ‘Race parties’ stall progress, regardless of intentionPublished Wednesday, January 23, 2008.

Senseless, irrational, uncouth, disrespectful and appalling are just a few of the words that cannot begin to describe the numerous “race parties” thrown by Ohio University students this past weekend. The newsfeed on Facebook revealed that some students took the long weekend as an opportunity to have parties and dress up as “gangstas, skanks and broskies” celebrating the 40-year anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s April 1968 death with forty ounces of beer and fried chicken. “Hooray for MLK!” … really?

Where are we as a country, a generation and a school when students are that grossly inappropriate? Has education missed some students completely? I can only assume that students who live off-campus are at least juniors. That means that the people who host these parties are nearly out of college and still lack good judgment. Scary thought. Corporate America should be wary of the graduates who held these parties in the name of “harmless fun.” That’s right. Some hosts claimed the parties were severely misconstrued and, in actuality, just for fun and not intended to insult anyone.

However, “good intentions” are hardly an excuse for what is obviously insensitivity and ridicule (or plain racism, depending on the interpreter). I don’t see how the host of a race party could possibly imagine it to be anything other than offensive. The all-white invitees were asked to dress up as stereotypical black people. The intention is pretty clear. The impact has yet to be determined. Regardless, it sounds like a page ripped out of a 1940s history book, not a 2008 Facebook page.

Personally, I do not profess to be a gangsta, and I am certainly not a skank, but the purpose of the parties is to portray black people as a whole in a negative light during a weekend to commemorate one of the most famous African-Americans of all time. As a black person, no matter what weekend it is, I think this is absolutely shameful. Furthermore, if the hosts of one certain party were ignorant of the impact (how it would be received by the black community), they would not have promptly cancelled the party once their little festival was made public and questioned.

Again, I have to ask: Where are we? These outrageous parties are hardly exclusive to Ohio University. The Athens Messenger recently reported that these types of parties go on at Clemson University in Greenville, S.C, the University of Connecticut, the University of Texas at Austin, John Hopkins University and Tarleton State University in Texas.

Still, people young and old shrug their shoulders and claim that as a country we have to move on and forget about the past. I’m all about progress. However, when the past is roaring like a train to the present, it must be confronted. Parties like this will not be tolerated. They won’t be brushed aside as “students just having fun” or their hosts and attendees given the benefit of the doubt. These parties are not a joke.

What is the mind-set of students who know better? I will not insult the intelligence of a host or attendee by claiming that he or she had the best intention and didn’t foresee a conflict. No, I will determine that everyone involved knew exactly what he or she was doing and who would be offended. They knew. They didn’t care. OU’s latest race parties were boldly advertised on Facebook for the entire country to see.

If OU’s goal is diversity, if most students are striving to unite, if change is really what most Americans desire, then why are race parties like these going on and forcing people to drink the bitter water of the past? Maybe this past weekend will serve as an opportunity for students of all races to come together and determine not to let the ignorance of a few damage the bridges built by the many who have stepped out of their comfort zone while enrolled at this university.

There is a lesson here to be learned about intentions and being able to think through actions and the possible impact those actions will have on others. Malicious intent is rarely cited in the majority of offensive actions. Most of the time, the perpetrators “didn’t mean to offend anyone.” However, “not meaning to offend” is more of a reason to educate ourselves and think through our words and actions to ensure that our “good intentions” don’t result in a negative impact. We can’t always please everyone; some are easily offended and sometimes mistakes are made. However, I do believe there needs to be a continued, concerted and deliberate effort to unify because, clearly, carelessness and ignorance only tear apart. But maybe it’s just me.

Alissa Griffith is a junior journalism major. Send her an e-mail at .

Alissa also is E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Student Ambassador, a reporter and newswriter for WOUB, Chaplain and Public Relations Chair for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Vice President of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, and a member of the Black Student Communication Caucus. You can read another article by her from last week about Hillary Clinton here~~~

Miss Griffith mentions an article in the Athens Messenger about Race Parties. Here are 2~~~

There is an article in today's Post on this topic
and a letter to the editor

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