31 October 2006


A very interesting All Hallows Eve here in B-town. A group of African American politicians from the DC suburbs have thrown their support to Republican candidate Michael Steele (mainly it seems because he's black and his Democratic opponent is white -- certainly can't be because of what Steele stands for, since it seems he doesn't stand for anything beyond the Bush party line). Trick or Treat?

Yesterday a friend sent a photo of a white couple on their way to a party: the guy was in blackface, wearing a dreadlocked wig, beliving himself the image of the perfect 'Rasta'.

To be fair, I did see a young white kid today wearing dreads also -- but he also had a fake sword and was dressed a la Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribbean. He was sitting not far from a young black kid in black face -- which matched the rest of his all black "Ninja" outfit.

Older kids, however, seem to be auditioning for episodes of everyone's favorite reality show "Whites Behaving Badly"

Johns Hopkins University and Hospital are my neighbors on two fronts. My neighborhood is within walking distance of the University campus, and part of their Kennedy Krieger Institute is directly down the street from us. At work, one of our locations is almost literally surrounded by the growing Hospital complex, and will be moving in 2007 to make way for another Hopkins building.

It is something of an open secret, particularly when it comes to the Hospital, that they are not 'good neighbors.' Both are extremely insular organizations, and their relationship to the surrounding neighborhoods is weak at best, and filled with condesention at worse.

So the following news item doesn't surprise me in the least:

"Johns Hopkins University suspended a fraternity Monday afternoon following a racially themed Halloween party Saturday night at an off-campus house.

The uproar began shortly after the “Halloween in the ’Hood” party was advertised on the Web site Facebook.com. The invitation encouraged racial-stereotyping costumes, included references to the late attorney Johnnie Cochran and O.J. Simpson, and prefaced descriptions of Baltimore as “a ghetto,” “the hood” and “the HIV pit” with a four-letter epithet"

From The Baltimore Sun:

"A picture of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accompanied the posted invitation, BSU members said.

"ps we STILL don' discriminate against hoodrats, skig skags, or scallywhops," it read.

Rob Turning, the university's coordinator of Greek Life, told the chapter president, Richard Boyer, that the advertisement was "racist and offensive" and asked him to withdraw it, according to a statement from Johns Hopkins officials.

The ad later reappeared in an "altered but still offensive form" without the coordinator's knowledge, said the statement.

The BSU students, who met Saturday night, agreed to send a contingent to the party, said Christina Chapman, 20, a senior and BSU president.

Ten students went to the party, at the fraternity's house at 235 E. 33rd St. Ashlea Bean was one. Bean said she expected to be upset but when she and the others saw the skeleton-cum-pirate dangling from the roof of the fraternity's house in a rope noose and heard fake gunshots, she was outraged.

In a statement, President William R. Brody said he was "personally offended" and called the incident "deeply disturbing."

"The invitation to this party represented a serious and unacceptable misjudgment on the part of the fraternity chapter that organized it," said Brody. "We will move quickly to address that appropriately with the chapter."

More than 100 students attended a lengthy campus forum last night before a panel of the university's top administrators.

A wide range of topics surfaced during the meeting - which at times became heated - ranging from discrimination against gay and lesbian students to the scarcity of tenured minority professors."

There was one JHU frat that seemed to have a rolling party, with brothers and others beginning to gather on Friday afternoon, leading to the main blow out bash on Saturday night, and a little 'hair of the dog' follow up Sunday afternoon (once the unconscious had awakened). I also once had the odd experience of having a Middle Eastern cab driver pick black male me up rather than a group of white JHU students. He expressed to me ("his brother") his dislike of the students, how those he had carried in the past had acted, treating him as if he were stupid, 'probably a terrorist', and something less than human.

The school has a long standing problem in both recruiting and maintaining black instructors. I know from an African friend who was in one of their Language programs, that the head of that department was quite hostile toward him as he was working toward his PhD, and has continually refused to hire minority instructors. A few years ago Hopkins hired a brilliant young black (gay) professor -- then let him go and committed 'sin of omission' by not informing him of the fact that funding for his position was available and he COULD have stayed on if he wanted to. In talking to a number of black staffers and others on campus, many consider the atmosphere there toxic. However, because of their small numbers, and the fact that they need their jobs, they are loathe to say or do anything to jeopardize their positions.

Of course the somewhat ironic thing about JHU is that there's been an increasing number of South Asian and Indian students attending the school in recent years. With their dark skin color, some of them would be as unwelcom in some neighbhorhoods here as I would be. But then, I suppose, one of the functions of Black People in America seems to be to act as the floor upon which everyone else stands (or walks all over).

So this Halloween Party doesn't surprise me in the least. IMHO it's just an example of how well many of the students at JHU are being educated.

One part of this incident, however, that also disturbs me is this: If we as Black people have problems with these objectifications of our community by others, how much responsibility do we also have for the negative images of Black people some African Americans traffic in as well? If we have negative attitudes toward ourselves, expect the worse of our brothers and sisters, pour big bucks into the pockets of minstrels and fools, how can we expect those outside our community to behave any differently toward us?

All Saints Day UPDATE: The story continues as the Hopkins Black Student Union uses the incident to discuss broader issues on campus (some of which I've mentioned above). Also be sure to check out the growing 'Comment on this article' section: some people 'get it' others think this is an example of the Political Correctness Police at work...

1 comment:

John K said...

Well, I was there with the minstrel "Rasta" and his "gypsy" wife, and will blog on it soon, and they actually had come from a party and were chilling, in their costumes, at the bar at which all the Oak Lawn Gwendolyn Brooks Conference CC folks were staying. There's a lot more, but suffice it to say that both of them had quite ignorant things to utter as well, confirming of course that they were in full minstrel mode.