Racist 'Cookout' Pollutes a University

Racist 'Cookout' Pollutes a University

By Ruben Navarrette - March 3, 2010

SAN DIEGO -- You would think a half-century would be enough time for college students to grow up and put away childish things. At this point, I'd settle for them accepting a concept they should have learned in kindergarten -- that they have to go to school with people who don't look like them.

In the 1960s, the issue was opportunity. Battles were fought to racially integrate colleges and universities so that African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities would be welcomed onto campus and have the chance to better themselves. Today, the issue is dignity. Protests are erupting on campuses as African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities struggle to make their institutions better and more welcoming.

One school that could stand some improvement is the University of California at San Diego. For the last few weeks, a first-rate public university has been suffering through a rash of ugly racial incidents intended to either mock or intimidate black students.

African-Americans currently make up about 2 percent of the undergraduates at UCSD. And don't expect that number to go any higher until the university gets its house in order.

The racial antics kicked off on Feb. 15 with a tasteless off-campus party intended to ridicule Black History Month. The invitation to the "Compton Cookout" was steeped in racist stereotypes. Partygoers were urged to sport gold chains, flashy clothes, gang tattoos, etc. The invitation told girls to dress like "ghetto chicks" with "gold teeth" and suggested the guys come dressed in hip-hop wear.

The president of a fraternity whose members helped organize the event, Pi Kappa Alpha, later issued a statement of regret. In it, he acknowledged that the party was "racially offensive."

You think?

Strike two was the airing of an equally offensive and racially charged show on a student-run TV station. Participants defended the cookout. They used the N-word, labeled minority students who complained about the cookout "ungrateful" (apparently, for even being allowed on campus), and left behind a note making reference to a "Compton lynching."

From a racist cookout to a lynching. This isn't progress.

Strike three was when a female student recently left a noose hanging in a campus library. The student, who has since been suspended, confessed to authorities the next day. According to a campus official, the student "didn't think that leaving a noose was an issue."

Makes you wonder if they're still teaching U.S. history at UCSD.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger condemned the "horrific incidents" that have created racial unrest at the university.

"The acts of racism and intolerance that we have witnessed are completely unacceptable," Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "There is no excuse for this kind of behavior in our system of higher education or anywhere else and it will not be tolerated."

The shame of it is that some San Diegans, mostly on the right, are busy trying to offer excuses for the inexcusable. It's free speech, they say. The party was held off campus. The TV station in question makes fun of everyone. And here's my favorite: This whole thing has been a big misunderstanding because one of the people who helped the fraternity organize the cookout was a little-known black comic and Internet personality from Las Vegas.

And? What difference does this make?

Remember when the Fox animated series "The Family Guy" poked fun at Sarah Palin's son, Trig, a toddler with Down syndrome? Conservatives came unhinged, and rightfully so. Anti-Palin liberals insisted that there was no offense because, in fact, the voice actress in the sketch has Down syndrome and she was fine with the script.

Conservatives were, shall we say, unmoved by that argument. And so, now that the shoe is on the other foot, those on the right will have to excuse me if I'm not moved by the revelation that a black comic helped to plan a racist party. So what?

To get an idea of just how racist the event was, check out the photos online. I suppose the black comic also forced the white college students to put on black face and pose while eating watermelon.

That's not a good look. But, if you want to clear the air at a university whose reputation has been polluted by racial insensitivity, stunts like this are a good reason to hand out expulsion letters.

Copyright 2010, Washington Post Writers Group

Ruben Navarrette

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