Responding to the Justifications of the Compton Cookout

An original version posted on 2/19/2010 as "Public debate over racism erupts after student party" @

Last week, a few students attending the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) held a theme party called the "Compton Cookout."

The Facebook invitation, sent out by some members of the Fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha urged male participants to wear large T-shirts, jerseys, sunglasses. Most controversially however, the invitation included a description of "ghetto chicks"

"Ghetto chicks have a very limited vocabulary, and attempt to make up for it, by forming new words, such as "constipulated", or simply cursing persistently, or using other types of vulgarities, and making noises, such as "hmmg!", or smacking their lips, and making other angry noises,grunts, and faces. The objective is for all you lovely ladies to look, act, and essentially take on these "respectable" qualities throughout the day." Read the Full Invitation

UCSD Chancellor Mary Anne Fox responded with a statement condemning the event and affirming principles of community. Read here for UCSD's Statement.

Because the party was not affiliated with any student organization, UCSD was not able to take further action.

Pi Kappa Alpha issued a statement denying any involvement. Read here for Pi Kappa Alpha's Statement.

While the party has long ended and statements have been given, the issue has drawn enormous public responses. A majority of the responses have ranged from dismissal of the students behavior as an innocent act of fun, to condemning the students' behavior as an act of racism.

What do you think?

Reactions from followed by commentary

Reactions asking why this party is still a big deal

"The actions of one individual who created the event page using his own poor judgment and inept choice of words should not reflect on any other person, group, organization, or community besides that one individual. And even so, only to a certain extent."

This type of racially-tinged event is nothing new on college campuses. It has happened before in Clemson, Tulane, Santa Clara, William Jewell College, the University of Chicago. It's not just one isolated event. One individual usually has a network of people supporting what he/she does, and they've learned it from somewhere. The trend does not come from "nowhere."

"This "compton cookout" event is not a sign that the world is beginning to spin backwards and racism is amongst us all again."

Quick, give me the exact time and place when racism even left us, I'd like to record this moment, just for history's sake.

"Does anyone see the absolute hypocrisy in this? So a bunch of students did something juvenile and had an offensive party. That's part of growing up."

Yes, and when you grow up, you get the appropriate reprimand for it. Don't forget that there's usually a reprimand when you do something "juvenile."

Reactions relating to media causing racism

"Clearly the way college students view African Americans is offensive to some. Where would they get these ideas? TV shows on MTV and BET? Spike Lee movies? Television stations that fascinate on ghetto behavior? Who knows...

It sure isn't from the 'frats'...."

No one says that racism originates with frats or even that frats are a new hotbed of hatred.

Media has something to do with these racism-driven stereotypes. However, it runs deeper than media. It's a lack of positive media, the segregation of neighborhoods and demographics.

"NOTE: The only folks making a big stink over this are the media and college administrators trying to cover their arses in the name of political correctness. As I said yesterday, sometimes it hurts to see how the rest of the world sees you. The party may have been in poor taste, but it was certainly a pretty good parody on black youth in America. Just drive through Compton (or Southeast San Diego), and tell me if you see anything different from what this party portrayed."

Firstly, not all black youth are the same. You wouldn't lump all white youth together and characterize them as one type of people. Secondly, Compton is actually not all black according to the 2000 Census, with 66% identifying as black, 42% identifying as Latino, and 11% identifying as white. The median income for a household in the family was $33,000 which is comparable to entire states such as Arkansas and Mississippi. Thirdly, I didn't know that you could understand groups of people, just by "driving through" their neighborhoods and looking at what they wear.

Somehow, I don't quite remember MLK saying judge people by the content of their clothing or their neighborhoods.

"The entire Hip Hop industry is "Ghetto-Themed" but it's OK; they're "keeping it real".
If you're a black college student, you're "embracing your roots".
If you're a white college student, you're a racist. HEY PARENTS: Is this the kind of hypocrisy and double standard you pay to have forced down your kids throats? Also, Hollywood and the music industry do not exactly try to glorify life in the trailer park, the way they do life in the hood."

The music that comes from the "ghetto" is just people talking about what they live. They are not "glorifying" the setting as much as they are "glorifying" the fact that they survived, and are now reaping the rewards.

If you pay attention to lyrics in certain songs, a lot of songs deal with making it from rough, humble beginnings, and the fact that struggles in those settings ultimately made them who they are and successful.

It's actually quite American --- ruggedly individual, material, and at times, very capitalistic.

"I’m not sure what is more funny.

The fact that these students are having a “Ghetto-Party” or that UCSD is promoting respect for the ghetto culture."

UCSD is not "promoting" respect for "ghetto culture," if there is such a thing. However, "ghetto" in the popular imagination has become code word for a "black person." The party's invitation said itself albeit tongue-in-cheek, "a celebration of black culture." The writer of the flyer made the connection that "ghetto" equalled "black."

If there is anything UCSD is promoting, it seems to be respect for people, in general, regardless of "culture". How's that for an idea?

Reactions ignoring the existence of racism in the event

"Racism is in the eye of the beholder"

The problem is that this type of thinking promotes the idea that racism is so subjective and so easily thrown around that racism is essentially meaningless and impossibly large to fight. All the burden of proof falls on the person who experiences it, without people really realizing that it's just as easy to deny it.

The vast majority of us are sick of how offended you are. Your self-esteem is not a concern in the real world, so grow [u]p and stop griping about everything.

This is not about being oversensitive or self-esteem. The debate is about improving the public imagery of people of color. The public imagery of people of color is very important because it's often times the only contact or real understanding that many people have of them. Public imagery informs making wise decisions based on actual merits rather than on stereotypes.

"Ghetto" relates to a segment of the population just as "redneck" refers to a segment of the population. When people think of "ghetto", they think of lower class blacks, and when they think of "redneck" they think of lower class whites. Not all blacks are "ghetto" no more than all whites are "rednecks". I was not at all offended, because these stereotypes do not apply to me, my family, or my friends.

While there are plenty of color who are not offended nor believe the stereotypes do not apply to them, those stereotypes and associations do affect how people think. Stereotypes and associations can affect how decisionmakers make decisions. For example, a Princeton study led by Sociologist Devah Pager showed that black and Latino people with exactly similar qualifications to white people got less than half the callbacks as their white counterparts. Another study by University of Chicago's Marianne Bertrand and MIT's Sendhil Mullainathan showed that black American names such as Tamika, Jamal were also far less likely to receive call backs than white-sounding names such as Carrie and Emily.


Many people have a simplistic idea of what "racism" is. It is not simply an intentional, obvious expression reduced to verbal abuse or obvious harrassment. It is also systematic exclusion from opportunities in schools, jobs, houses, and neighborhoods --- this form of racism is much harder to tell.

In the grand scheme of things, everyone will just look at this party as just a party.

However, the fact that there are over 100 pages of responses on from many different viewpoints, it is clearly something that people feel the need to weigh in on. As mentioned above, these racial and ethnic theme parties on college campuses are already running wild in the public imagination.

Plenty of respondents have firmly asserted that this it was a party, but ultimately an act of light humor with no effect. Plenty of respondents have even somehow thrown Barack Obama into discussion as if this somehow mitigates all acts of racism. Plenty of other respondents have asserted the opinion that I'm inclined to agree with; that it was a bad judgment call, and contains elements of racism that is potentially harmful to people of color.

The party is clearly a springboard for discussion about the larger issue of racism. Respondents are arguing not about the party itself, but the implications of what it means for race.

Here's the part where people should pay attention:

Respondents from a progressive anti-racism perspective are criticizing the event mainly to affirm the public image of people of color. Protection of public image is not something done for vanity, but actually plays a big role in first impression of groups of people, especially groups from minority populations. Public imagery of white Americans has saturated traditional media outlets that it's harder to stereotype or tell what a white person is before meeting them.

First impression makes a lot of difference in the job market, especially for people of color. It does not help decisionmakers who allow access to schools, jobs, houses, and neighborhoods when stereotypes of people of color are running through their minds.

It is usually harder to try and understand someone rather than to simply dismiss and ignore them. It's more convenient to dismiss and ignore.

In a culture increasingly bent on information technology to get and give answers quickly, and constantly pressured by time, it's no wonder, many people give their opinions on it, but never go as far as understanding what the term "racism" means in today's contexts.

No comments:

Post a Comment