Friday, December 08, 2006

Still Work To Be Done

Racial ignorance still plagues campuses

Fri Dec 8, 6:54 AM ET

My eighth-grader got a break from school uniforms last month for "university T-shirt day." With a slew of national jerseys hanging in his closet, he chose Texas A&M University, proud that his father is one of a handful of African-American men to graduate from the school in College Station, Texas, 20 years ago.

Neither generation understands why three white A&M students recently showcased a racially charged video depicting one in blackface receiving a mock whipping. Unfortunately, I had to explain to Brandon that it's not the first time, or last, that students at institutions of higher learning partake in such things as "ghetto-fabulous" parties wearing gold teeth and Afro wigs.

According to The Review of Higher Education, a research journal, 1 million incidents of bias occur every year on campuses in the USA. Many incidents aren't reported, though, because schools perceived as racially insensitive could see a backlash in the form of lost gifts and contributions, the lifeblood of universities.

Hundreds of Aggie students condemned the video, as did then-A&M president Robert Gates, who was just confirmed as the next Defense secretary. Gates championed efforts to increase minority enrollment at the nation's sixth-largest university. Still, of the more than 36,000 undergraduates enrolled this fall, just over 1,000 are black. Brandon's dad says about 300 blacks attended when he was in school, but more than half were athletes. He also recalled that his freshman year included a mock slave auction at one of the dorms.

Brandon's dad remains fiercely proud of Texas A&M with its many traditions such as bonfires, yells, taps and football. This despite the school's slow progress. Blacks are about 3% of the undergraduate student body, a number that hasn't changed in 15 years. But Hispanic numbers have gone from 8% to about 12%.

Now if only more students, whites specifically, would rise up to condemn racial indifference and insensitivity. There is strength in numbers. Slave auctions, ghetto parties and sexual stereotypes have done enough damage on campuses. This Texas school, with its presidential library, is in a unique position to deliver a model response other universities can embrace.

If the three students hadn't withdrawn from the university so quickly, they might have been required to take an African-American studies course, which would have included some lessons from Martin Luther King Jr. It was King who said, "Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of a true education."

I hope my son will follow in his father's footsteps and attend a good school whose T-shirt he can wear with pride - for all the right reasons.

Joyce King is a freelance writer in Dallas.

I think this op/ed piece does a good job at showing some insight of how people of color view acts that are often viewed as unoffensive, comedic, or not racist. I believe that anytime we belittle someone at their expense, we should first try to see how they might view this action. Most people charge this as being politically correct or an infringement of their first amendment right to free speech, but I consider this as compassionate, empathetic and ultimately a humanistic characteristic. I believe the arguments against so called P.C. talk is irresponsible, insensitive, and just plain lazy. To ask somebody to be respectful of your right to be treated and talked about in a civilized manner and as a human being is not censorship. I hear many gay white men that boycott or decry the religious right for unjustly and unwarranted lumping as all being pedophiles and having sex with animals, yet many turn around and tell sexist, racist and ethnic jokes themselves. If anything, minority groups should understand that fear, hatred and misunderstanding of any group is related and to chastise one without criticizing the other gets everyone nowhere fast.

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