By Arturo R. García
“DISCLAIMER: No racism intended.”
– Statement from Lambda Theta Delta’s original post of “Suit & Tie” blackface video, per The Huffington Post
That stunning “disclaimer” over a University of California-Irvine fraternity’s use of blackface to interpret the Justin Timberlake/Jay-Z track “Suit and Tie” makes the fraternity’s subsequent “apology” ring hollow.
“We sincerely apologize if we offended anyone whatsoever,” president Darius Obana told KCBS-TV. “On behalf of my brothers who were involved in the video, know that it was unintentional. But unintentional or not we do know that it was wrong.”
The fraternity released a separate statement on Facebook:
The use of black face in the video is incredibly offensive as well as insensitive. This behavior is simply unacceptable and the individuals responsible for the video have already been reprimanded within the organization prior to the public outcry to which this formal apology is responding. We want to ensure everyone that this video does not represent the views of the collective house. With that being said it does acknowledge the fact that we have some ignorant individuals within our organization, whom we have already dealt with ourselves.
But as demonstrated in this multi-community protest at a meeting of the school’s Multicultural Greek Council, this was not the fraternity’s first offense.
The school’s Black Student Union also touched on several racist incidents across the UC system in its own statement:
In 2011, our campus allowed Pippin Commons to host a chicken and waffles dinner “in honor of” Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2012, Pi Beta Phi felt it appropriate to give a “Once you go Black, you never go back” award.
This year, Alpha Phi and Phi Psi felt it appropriate to decorate a fraternity paddle with the words “slave driver” and “little slave” on it.
This week, Lambda Theta Delta felt it appropriate to use Blackface in multiple promotion videos.
Although it is easy to cite Greek organizations as perpetrators of racism, this is not a Greek issue. This is more than that. It is also more than an individual issue. This is a UC system wide issue, and ultimately, a world-wide issue. AntiBlackness and racism is reproduced within each UC campus, whether in the form of nooses at UC San Diego or Ku Klux Klan hoods in UC Davis.
What all of these actions have in common is a lack of respect, a lack of accountability, and a disregard of particular students’ well being on campus.
Because these actions (not to mention the more mundane and less publicized forms of violence) continue to occur despite repeated outcry for justice, apologies are no longer enough. It has never been enough, and it will never be.
Patrick Chen, head of the Executive Vice Presidents office for the school’s Associated Students, has documented the timeline of events since LTD’s disaster was posted online, and, speaking outside of his official capacity, offered a further debunking of the fraternity’s claim that it did “unintentional” harm:
My classic example is: if I accidentally step on your foot, is your foot physically unaffected from being mashed by my shoe because “I didn’t mean to do it”? It is more than clear that many people have not been offended by these videos – they’ve been HURT. Because the content of the videos, blackface, has a deeply racist historical and contemporary legacy of truly racist caricatures of black folks, and that can be very triggering for people who already are suffering from constant racial microaggressions. The “intent” doesn’t matter, because the “behavior” has harmed a community.
Now Lambda Theta Delta is feeling the effects of ostracizing firsthand: not only has the UCI Asian Pacific Student Association has publicly distanced itself from the group, but university officials have castigated it to the press at large. And the Black Student Union has promised to remain vigilant.
“We demand that when (not if) another incident of organized racism occurs on this campus, official punitive policies will be utilized and in place to address the perpetrators,” the group said in its statement. “We will repeat: the Black Student Union, will no longer stand for this. While there is racism, we will not rest.”