Blackface at Texas A&M: dialogue, not just condemnation, is needed

by Carmen Van Kerckhove

blackface texas A&MWe’ve documented the upward rise in blackface and “ghetto party” incidents extensively on this blog, but I’m still amazed by how prevalent it is, and how it seems to be spreading faster than ever, especially on college campuses.

The latest blackface incident comes from Texas A&M (thanks Sandra!). Two white students made a video in which one of them was supposed to be a “slave” being disciplined by the other one. You can view a clip of it here (you’ll have to sit through a few commercials first). Here’s the description of the tape from ABC News:

On the tape, the white student in blackface is disciplined by a second white student playing the role of a slave master with a belt. Professors say the white student is carrying a “12th Man Towel,” a symbol of how Texas A&M fans help the football team. In the three-and-a-half minute tape, the student in blackface is put through a mock whipping and sexual assault.

University spokespeople don’t want to confirm that the students involved were disciplined, but they did say that both students are no longer enrolled at the school. Texas A&M President Robert Gates (about to leave the post to be the new Secretary of Defense) also issued a statement saying that the video is “so utterly disgusting that, regardless of race, religion, or background, I believe virtually any member of our Aggie family would be outraged and ashamed if they viewed it.”

It’s good that the responses have been unambiguously condemnatory, but at the end of the day, condemning these actions won’t bring about any real change.

I hope that Texas A&M will learn something from Whitman College (thanks Lyonside!). There was an outcry among the student body when photos were found of students who put on blackface to mimic the racially segregated cast of “Survivor: Cook Islands” at an off-campus party.

Instead of merely denouncing this act, Whitman College cancelled classes for an entire day and organized a full-day symposium on race relations which every single student had to attend.

And this wasn’t some lame “we are the world,” “there’s no race but the human race” crapfest. Take a look at the agenda. Some of the panels and workshops included:

  • The History of Blackface
  • Creepy Fun, Complicit Thoughtlessness, and Taking Action
  • On Being White in A Racist Society: A Workshop on Becoming An Effective Ally
  • Individual vs. Institutional Discrimination
  • “I’m Not a Racist”: Feigning Moral Blindness
  • Race, Class and Gender in Outdoor Sports and Institutions; AKA “Why is it Always White Dudes Leading Trips?”
  • The History of Race in the Greek System

Wow. Now that demonstrates a commitment to diversity.

I sincerely hope that Texas A&M, and all the other schools that have experienced similar incidents, will look to Whitman as an example of what to do. Condemning these racist acts is important. But at the end of the day, if the perpetrator doesn’t understand why what he/she did was wrong or offensive, nothing is going to change.

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