College “Ghetto-Themed” Parties: The Awful, Racist Idea That Just Won’t Die

By Julianne Hing Feb 18, 2010

You stay in this world long enough and you’ll reach the point where news can be shocking, but it fails to surprise you anymore. And so it is with the latest from the University of California, San Diego, and a "Compton Cookout" a couple frat boys held this past weekend. Yes, you read right. In honor of Black History Month (I am making a mental note to myself to add "ghetto-themed" parties to this list), UCSD students organized a party with the following invitation:

February marks a very important month in American society. No, i’m not referring to Valentines day or Presidents day. I’m talking about Black History month. As a time to celebrate and in hopes of showing respect, the Regents community cordially invites you to its very first Compton Cookout. For guys: I expect all males to be rockin Jersey’s, stuntin’ up in ya White T (XXXL smallest size acceptable), anything FUBU, Ecko, Rockawear, High/low top Jordans or Dunks, Chains, Jorts, stunner shades, 59 50 hats, Tats, etc. For girls: For those of you who are unfamiliar with ghetto chicks-Ghetto chicks usually have gold teeth, start fights and drama, and wear cheap clothes – they consider Baby Phat to be high class and expensive couture…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.

You think it can’t get more offensive, but it doesn’t stop. You think it couldn’t make you angrier, but it does. And Chevelle Newell, a member of the Black Student Union and a UCSD undergrad who’s been organizing forums and actions in response to the offense, said that the Facebook invite for the "Compton Cookout" had 272 confirmed guests before it was shut down. "It reflects the campus climate," Newell said. "It was more than just one or two people who found this funny." Newell’s first reaction when she saw the party invite? "Wow, this exists. Even though we have a Black president, that doesn’t mean anything," she said. "And me being a Black woman, I do not stand for any of those things they put in the description. Is this what the whole campus is seeing when I’m walking around campus, sitting in class? That’s the part that really affected me." The organizers of the party have since deactivated their Facebook pages and have not publicly taken responsibility or apologized for their actions. Since the news broke on Tuesday, UCSD’s Chancellor issued a prompt statement condemning the party and has organized a teach-in. But UCSD’s students know it will take more than a one-day event to change the culture of the campus. If, that is, they can stick it out long enough to keep fighting for the institutional change they know SD needs. "A lot of people say, ‘Yeah it sucks, but I’m not surprised,’" said Morelia Rivas, a grad student at UCSD. "But it’s important that we don’t stop at not being surprised. We have to make an effort to respond publicly." Black students currently make up just 1.3 percent of UCSD’s student population, a not uncommon figure among the increasingly exclusive UC campus system, but a distressing number if you consider that Blacks make up nearly 7 percent of the local San Diego area but are continually shut out of access to college. "The people that are responding to it are the few Black students who have tapped into each other as resources, but who are saying over and over, ‘That’s why I hate this place. That’s why it’s so frustrating to be here. That’s why I often want to leave,’" she said. Not good news for a campus that already struggles with recruitment and retention of underrepresented students. But maybe it’s some comfort to everyone to know that "ghetto-themed" parties of 2010 look very much the same way they did back in 2007–those days of Don Imus and the Jena 6–when ColorLines first covered them:

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 “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.

And one look at the nasty comments on public news sites all but confirms this analysis. But students not giving up. Newell wants a public apology from the people who organized the Compton Cookout and she wants them suspended from their fraternities. But she also wants UCSD officials to step up and be serious about efforts to recruit and retain Black students and ensure a diverse and safe campus community.