February 21, 2013
Last weekend, the brothers of Theta Delta Chi attempted to put together an event titled “The White Party.” Despite the name, the party did not seem to have any racial overtones as the theme simply required attendees to wear white outfits. However, on the same weekend, a Facebook invite went out for a dorm party called “The Black Party,” which contained a picture of African American rapper Kenneth Moore (“Big Moe”) and advertised the alcoholic drink known as “purple drank.”
This theme in itself has strong racial overtones and makes use of black cultural stereotypes such as rampant drug use and gang-like behavior. The issue of using race as a party theme or even poking fun at race on the Hamilton College campus should neither be overlooked as harmless nor praised as comical without appropriate critical analysis.
There are a significant number of comedians who parody race with good intentions. It is no secret that the topic of race is the elephant in the room in the U.S. and brings a high potential to offend. As a result, many people become uncomfortable talking about race and avoid the topic in conversation completely. For some comedians, this is unacceptable, and many choose to joke about race as a way to make others more comfortable around the topic and encourage discussion.
In a different vein, other comedians poke fun at controversial topics, including race, to protest the idea that there are things that comedians should not be allowed to parody. These comedians simply mock race because of its shock value and because others find it a comical topic. It is this type of humor that we should be most cautious of as it encourages the use of and acceptance of racial stereotypes for comedic purpose without analyzing their harmful effects. It is this type of seemingly harmless humor that “The Black Party” utilized for the purpose of coming up with a creative party theme.
“The Black Party” specifically uses the black stereotypes of drug use and of gangster characteristics to mold a party theme. While the theme was creative in its indirect reference to last weekend’s “White Party,” it is almost no different from blackface conceptually.
Historically, blackface was used as early as the 1840s and lasted all the way up to the Civil Rights Movement in the 1970s. Blackface was nothing more but a method that comedians used to specifically poke fun at the African American race and the stereotypes surrounding it. Blackface enforced the idea of inferiority of the African American race through subtle yet effective means.
“The Black Party” invitation had no description of the party, but its use of a black rapper, who was notably known for his own addiction to “purple drank,” suggests intentions behind those responsible for the party. The hosts’ intentions do not seem to be malicious and the situation seems more like a fun idea that went too far, but their own ignorance of the effects of their actions leads to the disturbing question as to what students at Hamilton are learning during their four years here.
“The Black Party” is not the only Facebook entry that has utilized black stereotypes for comical purposes. The Facebook profile Jerome Wrecking Ball Smith, who is not an actual person, was created by unknown Hamilton students as a parody of black culture. Jerome is depicted as a stereotypical urban black man who almost always utilizes the terms “b*tch” and “ho” in his statuses and goes as far as to refer to himself as chocolate in response to Hamilton’s recent chocolate tasting event. His profile states that he currently attends Hamilton College, having graduated from the “school of hard knocks.” Thus, Jerome’s profile is an interesting example of a phenomenon that is very similar to blackface except that it is a product of internet culture.
Many of the interactions that the College has had with race have not been negative, and most have been progressive more than anything else. However, symbols like “The Black Party” and Jerome’s profile page do nothing but give a bad name to the College a bad name. They make race on Hamilton’s campus even more of an elephant in the room by creating and enforcing a stereotype that Hamilton students are racist. While this stereotype is likely untrue, it hints at a disturbing possibility of how Hamilton’s community is viewed by outsiders.
Is it possible to safely and responsibly make fun of race without any negative consequences? Possibly. However, what is guaranteed is that Facebook entries like “The Black Party” and Jerome Smith are of no benefit to this campus and only serve to make this campus less welcoming to all students.