A YouTube video, recently posted by members of Lambda Theta Delta, an Asian American fraternity at UC Irvine, has sparked outrage, controversy, and allegations of racism. The video is a parody of Suit and Tie by Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z. In the parody one fraternity member appears in black makeup to impersonate Jay-Z. While the students said they were just having fun and in no way attempting to be racist, other student organizations and the university’s administration have condemned the video. The university’s vice chancellor for student affairs said that whether or not the video was intended to be racist, “it is reprehensible.”
Many student organizations, including the Asian Pacific Student Association and the Black Student Union, have called the video “deeply offensive” and have made formal complaints. At last night’s Greek Council meeting, many students gathered in protest. In response to the apology, posted by the fraternity to its Facebook page, one black student said, “Your insufficient apology is not enough and it will never be enough,” and accused the fraternity of using blackface in their videos on multiple occasions. Lambda Theta Delta denied these allegations; however, another video surfaced in which a student wearing a grey undershirt and red bandana wears blackface. The fraternity president said that the video was recorded at a 2010 Halloween party and was then edited into the chapter’s 2012 recruitment video. He said that while the costume was not fraternity approved, it was “the equivalent to a female powdering her face to go as Snow White.”
The fraternity has claimed that they believe the behavior of its members in the video is offensive, insensitive, and unacceptable; however, from the president’s last comment it appears that they don’t take the matter very seriously. It is obvious that they don’t view these videos as racist. Instances like this have occurred at many colleges all over the country. For example, “gangsta” themed parties and fraternity/sorority swaps are very common. At these events, students wear the stereotypical clothing of rappers and girls in rap videos, and in some instances, even blackface.
While blackface is typically thought of as racist, these college parties are not. Even when they are accused of being racist, the usual “its not racist because I’m not trying to be racist” defence is used. This was exactly the excuse given by the Lambda Theta Delta members that posted their Suit and Tie parody. In a case like theirs, where blackface is used, this excuse is rarely considered valid, but what about when things don’t go quite that far? Is this excuse ever valid?