The Rise of the Ghetto-Fabulous Party: Across Campuses, White Students Are Donning Blackface, Drinking 40s and Playing at Being Undocumented Immigrants. Just Another Stupid Racist Joke-Or Is It the Culmination of Two Decades of Conservative Politics at Colleges?

Article excerpt

IN JANUARY, STUDENTS at Clemson University in South Carolina and a number of other institutions of higher learning opted to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day with what were called "ghetto-fabulous" parties at which white students dressed in blackface, drank 40s, wore fake teeth grills, flashed gang signs and, in some cases, padded their posteriors to conform to their stereotypes of the Black female body. A month later, white students at Santa Clara University in California threw a "Latino-themed" party, where young women feigned pregnancy, the young men played at being cholo and everyone reveled in the symbols and spectacle they associate with Latinos.

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Although not a new phenomenon, it seems that over the last year "ghetto," "gangsta," "south of the border" and "taco and tequila" parties have become college chic and cool. Parties at more than a dozen colleges and universities received national coverage in the past year, with countless others going unnoticed save for the pictures posted to sundry websites. It is tempting to interpret such events as cliched racist expressions. They are, after all, contemporary minstrel theaters that allow middle- and upper-class white Americans to cross moral and social boundaries by racial cross-dressing. But such easy explanations keep us from fully appreciating the circumstances on today's college campus that make minstrel parties pleasing and powerful for so many.

In many respects, ghetto-fabulous parties are the culmination of conservative politics on college campuses. They reflect the ongoing insecurities of whiteness in the wake of the civil rights movement and the supposed prominence of multiculturalism and political correctness. Indeed, ghetto-fab parties are part of a broader reactionary movement that believes whiteness and the ivory tower are being imperiled by political correctness, radical professors and "minority rights." Pushing against these perceived evils, conservative students have organized political theatrics on campuses, holding "affirmative-action bake sales" and offering "white-only" scholarships. They have in essence created a culture today in which those with power think of themselves as victims and those without become targets for violence.

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As key battlegrounds in the culture wars, colleges and universities have long been under fire for their purported liberal bias. However, with the corporate takeover of America's colleges and universities, and since 9/11, academics and public intellectuals have become increasingly suspect. They have become visible targets for neoconservative racial projects.

"Over the past few years, we have seen a rise in ghetto parties on college campuses around the country. While these postmodern minstrel shows are not themselves new-fraternities, sororities and other social groups have conducted such parties for more than a century--the performance of these racist rituals in full public view indexes a sharp ideological shift on many of America's campuses," notes Marc Lamont Hill, an assistant professor of Urban Education at Temple University. "As universities become increasingly corporatized and militarized spaces, attacks on tenure, free speech, ethnic studies and student and faculty diversity are increasingly common features of the higher educational landscape. It is within this post-culture war context that ghetto parties and other spectacles--such as 'whites-only bake sales' and anti-affirmative action rallies--can be positioned within the public sphere with no substantive retribution."

The corporatization of America's universities is not simply resulting in corporate takeovers of bookstores and food services, or even the corporate marking of buildings, departments and programs across the country; it isn't just about the emphasis on business plans and profits, or corporate partnerships, but about changing the overall mindset of today's university. …