It’s Hard To Be Mocked, Harder To Stay Focused

Racist incidents at a California college leave an HBCU grad pondering the power of both the noose and the tassel.

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Never mind the genius of George Washington Carver, the linguistic stylings of Langston Hughes, the ingenuity of Granville T. Woods. Forget how much Rosa Parks’ feet hurt. Harriet’s, too, for that matter. To some people, Black History Month will always mean an opportunity to mock the less, um, upstanding members of black America, as opposed to a cause for celebrating our nation’s best and brightest.

Such was the case at the University of California San Diego last month, when several still-unidentified students threw a “Compton Cookout” party as a mockery of the annual observance that Carter G. Woodson worked so hard to establish.

Instead of asking revelers to dress as if they were going out for a swanky evening at the Savoy, or even asking them to sport kente cloth and black medallions, they were instructed to wear “cheap, baggy clothing” and gold chains. Instead of a potluck that called for traditional dishes like sweet potato pie and baked macaroni and cheese, guests were invited to partake in plenty of purple drank, fried chicken and, of course, watermelon.

There’s nothing wrong with watermelon, as far as fruits go. But the plans for the stereotypical soiree proved to be a shocking reminder that even among coeds, America’s not nearly as post-racial as many of us had hoped.

So what to do? Students of color at UCSD tearfully demanded apologies as well as the support of the administration. Some expressed sincere and justifiable outrage. And they got the attention they wanted. But just a few weeks later, a noose was found hanging in the library, only serving to incite more fear. Fed up, the students took over the chancellor’s office for a few hours.