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Last week, the world shat all over the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority of the University of California, Los Angeles for co-hosting a “Kanye Western” themed party.
Students dressed in baggy clothes and sported fake butts to emulate the infamous Kimye power couple, but the main offender of the evening was this photo, which media outlets from Billboard to Independent claimed depicts party attendees wearing black face.
As expected, everybody swiftly took up arms against them. Some UCLA students staged a protest outside the campus Title IX office, demanding they release a public statement saying the party was racist.
— Andrea Henthorn (@andrea_henthorn) October 8, 2015
It turns out the whole blackface thing may have been one big, terrible misunderstanding. The women in the photo are holding plates of fake gold and have charcoal smeared on their faces. These costumes reference the Kanye West song “Gold Digger” — not skin color — the fraternity says in a Facebook post. The post also apologizes for their “lack of judgment.”
The statement is supported by the caption on the above Instagram photo:
“I rescind all prior statements I made. I am sayin’ she a gold digger.” — Kanye West (Oct. 6, 2015)
Billboard and Independent, along with many other outlets to cover the story, conveniently left that caption out, which was reckless and amoral journalism on their parts. This post went so far as to juxtapose the “Kanye Western” party photo next to a photo of an actual blackface party. It then goes on to say that while these are actually two different parties, they are both comparably evil.
With information as misleading as that, you can’t even blame the protestors and everyone else who called out the fraternity for being racist. My aim is not to tell them they are wrong for being offended. They were egregiously misled by media looking to skip over the facts and slide yet another fraternity scandal into the trending section of Facebook. These media outlets are the ones who should have issued an apology.
Some people have stood by their initial outrage, saying there’s no way the partygoers could not have intended for their costumes to be racist, and that the “Gold Digger” statement is merely a coverup. Some also say — regardless of whether the blackface was intentional or not — that the baggy clothes and fake butt implants were a cruel jab at African American culture. But I genuinely believe Sig Ep and Alpha Phi had no intention of celebrating racism.
I think these girls were unaware the charcoal on their faces was about to be construed as blackface, and if every media outlet that covered the scandal had included the “Gold Digger” caption from the get-go, the event probably would have remained a non-issue.
As for the baggy clothes and the fake butt implants, which Sig Ep apologized for, both were references to Kanye, Kim, and the rap industry, not African Americans as a whole. While many responded to the incident with sayings like “My culture, not your costume,” this implies rap music is indistinguishable from African American culture. Maybe it is (as a white man, I don’t have any say in that), but I have noticed that rap music seems to have permeated across all races. It’s a big part of all of our lives. Don’t tell us it’s okay to poke fun at that culture, but do forgive us if there is an occasional lapse in judgment. Not everyone lives their lives closely examining how each action they take and each article of clothing they wear may be seen through the eyes of those who seem to be begging for things to be offended about.
That’s not to say I don’t blame people for jumping on the “Greeks are racist” bandwagon when this story rolled out, either. Far too many intentionally racist themed parties have been held by Greeks in the past. Another one wouldn’t be too much of a surprise.
But that doesn’t mean the UCLA chapters of Sig Ep and Alpha Phi deserve to go belly up because of this scandal — which may happen (both are suspended from all activities pending the outcome of an investigation). Put yourselves in their shoes. Is it too hard to believe they didn’t know what they were doing would offend? Perhaps the general public’s view of Greek life is so negative that seeing it this way is impossible, but I think, ironically, these girls are some of the most “colorblind” people out there. I think they were blissfully unaware, innocent to a fault, of the offense they were causing because they don’t think of musical culture in terms of white or black. Maybe the rest of the world should do the same..
Image via YouTube