Black Equality (Still) We Have a Long Way to Go

This op-ed was published in the Daily Californian, the student newspaper at UC Berkeley last February.

By Stephan Moutouth
Special to

When I think of Black History Month, I think of celebrating the accomplishments of the African American people that preceded us in history. We celebrate the progress we have made as a result of the people who fought and died for change. We saw that progress come together on Nov. 4, 2008 with the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States of America. However, history does not stop with the Obama's election.

Yes, we have made great progress since slavery. Yes, we have come a long way since the segregated public areas. But we still have a lot of work to do and we still have a long way to go. Civil rights are still a struggle for many people of different races, genders, classes and sexual orientation to this day.

Many people like to say that we live in post-racial society, citing the election of President Obama as proof. But we are not in a post-racial society when we have students at UCSD making a mockery of so-called black behavior and culture.

For those of you who are not aware of what happened at UCSD, some members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity on that campus planned a party called the "Compton Cookout" in which the invitation encouraged everyone to act like black people which, in their eyes, became synonymous with being "ghetto," wearing clothing like jerseys, Baby Phat and White Tees XXXL, starting fights and curse, and making loud noises and grunts.

The invitation also stated that they would be serving 40's (40 oz. beer bottles), Kool-Aid, watermelon and chicken as if this was an accurate characterization of the things all black people eat.

They went further into disrespect by stating that "ghetto chicks" have short, nappy hair and because they have a "limited vocabulary" they make up for it by forming new words or "cursing persistently." This mockery was said to be in honor of Black History Month. The behavior attributed to black people in this invitation is not the way all black people behave. And the way someone speaks, looks or eats should not be viewed as anything negative or "ghetto."

The biggest problem is not that the planners are members of a historically white fraternity, but rather the way they have portrayed the behavior of black people while silently implicating people of color everywhere as "the negative other." And the fact that the University of California has not taken any serious action in this matter is mind boggling. Many people-black, white, Hispanic and people of all races, genders, classes and sexual orientation-have expressed outrage towards this incident.

The university must take action in order to make a statement that everyone deserves a space where they can receive a quality education without feeling unsafe or threatened by hate. Something needs to be done to protect students from ALL kinds of hate: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

I will not stand for this and I refuse to allow this unacceptable incident to pass. Black communities across the state are mobilizing in protest of such acts of clear disrespect, discrimination and disgrace. We will not allow people misrepresent and desecrate black culture and accomplishments in the name of Black History Month.

Some do not believe it is a big deal. My question to them is when is enough enough? I am tired of black people being depicted as ghetto and low class, while despite being shut out of jobs and education, still managing to earn great accomplishments. I am tired of black people being called ignorant and only good for starting fights and making trouble. I am tired of our black culture being degraded. I am tired of black people being disrespected and dehumanized. And I am tired of the underrepresentation of black students on this campus.

We cannot just let this pass. I understand that we cannot let these things breaks us, however that does not mean we have to stay silent about it. By tolerating this type of behavior, we are encouraging it.

One thing that I have learned from Black History Month over the years is that we as a people never quit no matter how hard things get.

Did Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quit after every time he was thrown in jail? Did Nelson Mandela quit when he was arrested for his involvement in the anti-apartheid protests in South Africa and spent 29 years in prison? We need to stand in solidarity condemning the actions by the members of Pi Kappa Alpha at UCSD and demand that further action be taken.

This is not about revenge or retribution. This is about standing up for what we believe in and demanding the respect that every person in this world deserves.

Below is a link to a petition in protest of the UCSD's "Compton Cookout." To show your support, please sign the petition.

Stefan Moutouth is a UC Berkeley Political Science major, and currently serves as a CalSERVE Senator on ASUC, the Associated Students of the University of California, at Berkeley (CAL).

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