What comes to mind when you think of UCLA? Reputation? Dignity? Well, after the UCLA chapters of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority’s joint “Kanye Western” themed party, UCLA has just become the most recent location for modern-day racism. It was a blatant example of the lack of cultural sensitivity that exists amongst hundreds of college campuses across America, and it was also a harsh reminder that racism is still alive and real.
The “Kanye Western” party was held on October 6, 2015. This theme does have some relevance. One of Kanye West’s biggest songs is titled “Gold Digger,” which explains the inclusion of “Western” into the party theme. Despite the slight relation between Kanye West’s song title and the party theme, the actions of the students partaking in the party were absolutely offensive and classless. The attendants of the party literally exaggerated as many black stereotypes they could think of. The students wore extremely baggy and thuggish clothing, the girls stuffed their butts to resemble Kim Kardashian (Kanye West’s wife) and some students even had the audacity to wear blackface.
Alicia Frison, a UCLA undergraduate student who witnessed the party taking place, said that she saw “a male student wearing blackface.” She continued by saying “the issue isn’t simply about putting on blackface… it’s the mockery of black culture.” The true reason this party is getting so much attention is because of the lack of cultural sensitivity that was displayed by these so called “highly-educated” UCLA students. Additionally, this happened in Los Angeles, which is one of the most diverse and inclusive cities in the world. One would assume that people living in such a diverse city would have a bit more knowledge about different cultures and how to respectfully admire them, rather than ridicule them.
As a fellow UC student, I’m appalled that an event like this even occurred on one of the sister campuses. Being a black student, I am reminded that there are many students within the same UC system that don’t respect my culture, my presence and my humanity. Additionally, this extremely disrespectful party was “coincidentally” thrown on Black Bruin Welcome Week, where new UCLA black freshman were becoming more integrated into the larger UCLA community. One of the most powerful rallying cries of the #BlackBruinsMatter movement was “our culture is not a costume.”
This phrase speaks volumes because it connects far back to the dehumanization of black people, most notably Saartjie “Sarah” Bartman. Bartman was sold from South Africa and taken all over 19th century Europe, where she was forced to participate in “human zoo expeditions” for her abnormally large buttocks and breasts. This extreme example shows the foundation of why we still have racist actions like the “Kanye Western” party that occurred at UCLA in 2015. Throughout world history, black people have consistently not been seen as human and thus anything that they associate with themselves can be ridiculed because they are “sub-human.” I don’t believe all the students that participated in this racist party see black people as “sub-human,” but they clearly were ignorant enough to believe that mocking black culture in such an obscene manner was completely acceptable. For example, the UCLA sorority girls stuffing their butts with pillows in order to portray Kim Kardashian’s curves is a disgusting act of cultural appropriation because they are negatively depicting how some women are naturally shaped, like Bartman.
Now the big question is: what does the “Kanye Western” party truly say about the UCLA student population? I believe the answer to this question was answered perfectly by a UCLA undergraduate student, Kelsee Thomas, who said: “Everyone keep in mind that simply because I go to one of the top ranked institutions in the country, doesn’t mean I’m any farther away from ignorance and racism as anyone else.” Thomas’ statement highlights the reality of American higher education in 2015: the schools that black students attend were never built for them and thus don’t know how to accommodate them. The lack of cultural sensitivity and awareness on supposed “diverse” campuses all around the country is an existing problem and needs to be taken more seriously.
The “Kanye Western” party was one of the poorest decisions made by people that are in the same age group as I am. It completely illuminates the lack of cultural awareness that is present on these alleged “diverse and inclusive” campuses across America. Additionally, in order to stand in solidarity with their black Bruins, UCLA should take severe measures against the Greek organizations involved, such as banning Sigma Phi Epsilon and Alpha Phi in order to set a precedent for incredibly racist events such as this. So I ask, what’s good UCLA?