Thursday, October 19, 2006
Why I Love Bob Jensen (he's the one on the left!)
Life at the University of Texas can be hard for students of color. As if attending a predominantly white university with an irrefutably racist past wasn't enough-- until the 1950s all of the major buildings on campus were built facing south and statues honoring Confederate heroes grace the main mall-- it can be overwhelming dealing with students and faculty alike who refuse to actively confront racism at this University.
One need only look to the law school to prove my point.
About a week ago, about 20 first-year law students threw a "ghetto fabulous party" in which participants dressed in outfits stereotypically associated with poor, working-class Black and Latinos and flaunted what they considered to be ghetto names such as Jose and LaTonya. Some wore gaudy "bling" jewelry while others thought it'd be cute to don gold grills for the evening.
While this is clearly problematic, the truly disturbing part of this whole story is the response of the law school to the event. The dean of the law school responded by reprimanding the students for being "insensitive" and warned that these thoughtless actions might have negative repercussions for their future careers.
Their careers? What about the fact that this party was racist?
This is where my love for Bob Jensen comes in.
In an editorial in the Daily Texan, Jensen made a point to call the party out for what it was. A demonstration of the reality of white supremacy at this institution. Rather than engage in discussions of cultural sensitivity, which seem to dominate any discourse of diversity in institutions of higher education, Jensen redirected the focus to thinking critically about the institutional and personal practices that reinscribe white supremacy as a normal part of American life.
His article is worth quoting at length as he discusses the real problems with this "ghetto" party:
"But whatever the case, should we be stressing to students that the reason they should not be white supremacists is that it might hurt their careers? What does such a message convey to sudents and to the community?
What’s missing in this official response is a clear statement that these law students -- many of whom go on to join the ranks of the powerful who run society -- have engaged in behavior that is overtly racist. Whatever their motivations in planning or attending the party, they have demonstrated that they have internalized a white-supremacist ideology. When these students are making future decisions in business, government, and education, how will such white supremacy manifest itself? And who will be hurt by that?
Here’s what we should say to students: The problem with a racist “ghetto fabulous” party isn’t that it offends some people or tarnishes the image of UT or may hurt careers. The problem is that it’s racist, and when you engage in such behavior you are deepening the racism of a white-supremacist culture, and that’s wrong. It violates the moral and political principles that we all say we endorse. It supports and strengthens an unjust social system that hurts people."
You can check out the rest of his editorial at http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=30&ItemID=11203
So this is my tribute to one of the few white men on campus who truly keeps it real, with himself and his community. If Bob Jensen is a fountain of undiluted foolishness (as he was once called by former University President Larry Faulkner) may we all be so lucky to be labeled as such and continue to take an unequivocal stand in the fight for racial justice.
(for the record, the photos I am using do not come from the Law School students' party. I did a google image search and found these. I felt that they illustrated the problematic racial politics of these events. As many of you know, these ghetto parties have been happening all over the country at a number of universities in the last 3-5 years.)