Solutions for Change After Compton Cookout

An original version posted on 3/1/2010 as "Recapping the aftermath of Compton Cookout and solutions for change" @

The aftermath of the Compton Cookout organized by students at UCSD has seen a flurry of responses.

Responses have included: a student calling blacks ungrateful on campus television, a protest led by the Black Student Union, plans for a "Compton Cookout Part Deux" and the discovery of a noose at a UCSD library.

The events at UCSD may have touched off a wave of crimes at other college campuses.

Last week, Kris Gregorian, an editor of a controversial campus newspaper said on campus television after the Compton Cookout, "You should be thankful you ungrateful n****." Later after his segment was aired, a piece of cardboard was later found in the studio with the words "Compton lynching" written on it.

Later in the week, Mike Randazzo, organizer of the Compton Cookout, announced plans for a repeat of the Compton Cookout, "We pretty much want people to just choose a culture and harmlessly poke fun at it."

"On Cinco de Mayo, we have parties making fun of Mexicans; on Veterans Day, we make fun of veterans (yes, the same veterans who uphold our rights to free speech); on St. Patrick's Day we make fun of the Irish. Everyone gets made fun of out of jest now, not hate,” the invitation read."

The Black Student Union Protest responded to the week's events organizing a teach-in chanting "Real Pain, Real Action." The teach-in drew over 300 students and lead to a student walk-out.

The latest incident happening late Thursday night involves the discovery of a noose at a UCSD library at around 10:30 PM. An unnamed student has since confessed to the incident, claiming she did not think that "hanging the noose would be a big deal."

A wave of incidents has since been touched off at UC Davis and the University of Missouri.

At UC Davis there have been two instances of race and ethnicity related vandalization. A swastika was carved into a Jewish student's dorm room earlier last week. On Saturday, there was discovery of vandalism at the UC Davis Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender building.

At the University of Missouri, balls of cotton were found strewn together in front of the University's Black Cultural Center. The strewn cotton has significant association to associations of slavery.

Perspective: Why Compton Cookout was not that funny

The party organizers were not intending to harm groups of people, but intention doesn't need to be present to actually harm individuals or groups of people. That's the very definition of "negligent."

However, the fact that it was a party which was planned, ultimately garners little sympathy here. These kids throwing racial parties, products of the 7th-ranked public university in the US News College rankings anticipated such controversy.

People need to recognize that organizing racial theme parties such as the Compton Cookout were not simply mistakes made by simple slips of the tongue. These individuals made deliberate, poor decisions and need to be called out for it each and every time they do organize a similar gathering or event.

I love off-the-cuff jokes and humor as much as the next person, but I can't find Compton Cookout, south of the border, white trash, or Eurotrash parties that funny.

Maybe it's because I know the "ghetto culture" wasn't something fabricated by MTV and merely popularized by rap music. It is a culture of people bred in response to centuries of segregation from advancement and opportunity. It is a symbol of inequality, survival, and ongoing struggle that was created by centuries of logic and policy that excluded black people.

These "ghetto", racialized theme parties puts out to the public that it's acceptable to trivialize products of struggle from different communities.

I know that the theme party to be thrown by Randazzo encourages a mindset that we all need to laugh at ourselves. I agree, laughter is the shortest distance between two people.

But it's hard to see how a fraternity full of white guys taking elements of black culture they only know through TV and computer monitors, is actually laughing at "themselves."

Advice to Compton Cookout organizers: equal opportunity offending is a horrible solution

Party organizer Mike Randazzo has served up the argument that these racial theme parties are an attempt to treat every race equally. They would do this by offending every race or ethnicity --- when I was in college this was called "equal opportunity offending." Seems to draw a lot on the methods of Borat, a movie I absolutely abhored.

The problem however is that this type of offending tends to not to actually be an "equal offender."

The idea of equal opportunity offending is essentially a justification to fight for the right to be ignorant.

Yes, there are so-called "Euro-trash" and "white trash" parties, but they are very specific to certain sub-cultures dominated by white people. If a big percentage of people were white trash or Euro-trash, there would probably be more outrage of those parties by those populations.

Through television, newspapers, radio, and our schooling, we have learned that white Americans are so varied, so unique, and carry such a diversity of opinion. Because they and everyone else absorbing US media have learned that they are so unique, many including themselves perceive their racial and cultural identities are essentially meaningless to the outside world.

With meaningless racial and cultural identities, they get the idea that race and ethnicity is something that could easily be ignored and either turned on or off.

In contrast, people of color tend to be recognized in popular media and work mostly for their cultural differences, whether real or not.

In news reports you see the labels of ethnicity demarcating an individual. You always see the labels "African-American" or "Latino" used to demarcate individuals, and that's even when there is no missing person or suspect on the loose. However, you rarely see the labels "Caucasian-American", or "white American" to describe an individual's background.

As it is, people of color are often perceived by decisionmakers like job interviewers to be monolithic thinkers with no variance, no diversity of opinion, and no uniqueness other than the color of their skin and accompanying culture. It's as if their diversity is the full extent of the uniqueness and talent that they bring.

"Equal opportunity offending" in the form of parties and tropes tends to hit Americans of color harder than white Americans. No matter how much they try to escape their stereotypes, people of color are linked more tightly by the outside world to the stereotypes of their race and ethnicity. As a result of this closeness, they tend to feel the mocking of their ethnicities and races a lot more.

Equal opportunity offending communicates to the word that its still acceptable to look down upon people of color using old familiar tropes that have denied people of color opportunities.

In the meanwhile, this equal opportunity offending offers less relevant tropes for the vastly varied white cultures and ethnicities. This ends up stinging no white person and confirms belief for them that making fun of race and ethnicity is essentially harmless.

Solution: We would build better racial understanding if we assume the best in people

While the idea of "racial and cultural sensitivity" means well, it is a somewhat ineffective idea to describe what is needed in working towards racial understanding.

"Racial sensitivity" for many young white Americans has meant a feeling to need to walk on eggshells when speaking with people of color, careful never to offend. The uncertainty many white Americans feel when dealing with people of color and race and ethnicity leads to this pointlessly rebellious "equal opportunity offending", first-ammendment-asserting Compton Cookout-type backlash.

"Racial sensitivity" is antithetical to "making fun" of something.

People of color suggesting "racial and cultural sensitivity" as opposed to "making fun" makes it seem like people of color have no sense of humor and that we absolutely allow no room for any mistake around them.

One solution to addressing these racially-themed parties and incidents is simple: tell people why exactly it isn't funny. Emphasis on "why exactly" as a way towards rational explanation.

It isn't funny because I understand that many black Americans are struggling still. These stereotypes floating in people's thoughts aren't bound to help anyone in job interviews and decisionmaking, and frankly it isn't my place to judge or make light of what I see people struggle through. Even amongst the best intentioned, bias does play a role when evaluating people of color.

I feel like there would have been no "Compton Cookout" or at least, less justifications of the event, had these kids been familiar with understanding the connections between events, policies, attitudes in the past with today's events, behaviors, and attitudes.

The public needs to understand that there are reasons why people live the way they live, and do the things they do. As James Loewen argued in his classic Lies My Teacher Told Me, people need to understand that the "effects" we observe in the world today all have "causes."

Studying history's many perspectives and establishing connections to today allows people to build on the assumption that there is logic, rationality, intelligence in individuals caught up in so-called "ghetto-cultures" and basically all cultures.

However, if you don't want to learn history and just want to build better racial and cultural understanding, here's something simple: Assume that people of color or white people or anyone with a different background is just like you and have done the best they could, given their circumstances.

Forget education levels, current employment status, assume that all people regardless of background are trying their best at something.

Assumptions we hold of groups of people direct how we see and ultimately understand people.

For example, if you assume that white Americans are evil, then you're likely to keep looking for examples of white people being evil. But if you run on the assumption that white Americans are trying their best, then you'll be more likely to accept and understand that they are essentially just individuals who are not intentionally keeping people down.

Inversely, if you assume that black Americans are lazy, then you're likely to keep looking for examples of black people being lazy. But if you run on the assumption that black Americans are trying their best, then you'll be more likely to accept and understand how hard it is to move up in America.

If these UCSD kids assumed the best of "ghetto people" meaning they assumed that black people were doing the best they could with what they had,they would instead simply see another group of people trying to get by in this even funnier thing called life.

They would not even see such superficialities such as "limited vocabulary" or "speaking loud" as anything particularly noteworthy, interesting, shocking, or attributable to "ghetto chicks."

Everyone has moments when they have "limited vocabulary" or "speak loud."

With nothing noteworthy, interesting, shocking about another culture, there would be less of a pressing "need" or a burning desire to throw parties as if those superficialities were something unique or interesting.

One tangible step people can take towards assuming the best in people is understanding that no matter what Bill Cosby thinks, "ghetto" language or what is referred to as black English is not broken English with mistakes.

It has its own pronunciation rules and logic. Perhaps a speaker of the language displays a lack of college education, but it does not necessarily mean a lack of knowledge or competency.

However because people conflate "education" with "knowledge", Black English speakers are perceived to be lacking knowledge, therefore competency, and subsequently, are looked down upon as speaking "broken" English.

As was stated by Texas A&M Sociologist Joe R. Feagin, "Language mocking and subordination are not about standards for speaking as much as about determining that some people are not worth listening to and treating as equals." Language is simply a tool that people use to understand each other, nothing more nothing less.

If we assumed that people were trying their best given their circumstances, we'd be past feeling suspicious of other people.

If more people assumed the best of different people, the question we'd attempt to answer would be past the warring stage, where people are battling every day trying to scream the existence of racism.

If we assumed the best of people, we'd already know that it happens, and we'd focus on addressing how and why racial division happens, and negotiating how we can all come to some kind of agreement that permits even exchanges across racial, ethnic, and cultural divides.

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