‘Ghetto’ themes mock black culture

By Matt Simmons

Two weeks ago, I was at Firehaus with a friend. I noticed several guys walk in dressed abnormally compared to the regular Firehaus crowd. The young men were wearing over-sized jerseys, large gold jewelry, and some of them wore their baseball caps turned to the side. I then noticed several girls come in that were dressed similarly except many of them were wearing tight white tank tops. It struck me as odd that anybody, especially a group of white kids, would go out to Firehaus dressed that way in February.

Then I found out that sororities and fraternities have been using “ghetto” or “thug” as themes for their exchanges with titles such as “Big Booty Hos and Ghetto Bros.” Junior in LAS and member of Lambda Chi Alpha, Octavio Duran, said that while his fraternity has not participated in such an exchange, that theme is “not uncommon” for fraternity parties.

Junior in LAS and member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, Christian Hildebrand, said that his fraternity had participated in a “ghetto” themed exchange. Hildebrand said that they were told to dress like they were “in a rap video.” Most of the people at the exchange wore “big jewelry, obscure athletic jerseys, head bands, and other clothing styles commonly considered black style.” However, Hildebrand went on to say that parties were “not meant to be racist despite racial themes” and that “they are not done with intentional bigotry in mind.”

I agree that these parties are not meant to be racist. In fact, they do not directly refer to any particular race of people. They are more of a reference to common perceptions of inner-city culture. Nevertheless, the planners of these exchanges are clearly catering to commonly held stereotypes about black culture despite the lack of overt references to black people.

But while these exchanges seem like fun, innocent parties, their implications have serious negative consequences for our community.

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For starters, many of the aspects of these parties are incorrectly labeled “ghetto,” though it’s doubtful that the social chairs planning these parties have ever been to areas that are considered part of the ghetto. How would they know how people dress in the inner city? Some of the guys from my neighborhood wear large basketball jerseys and very loose fitting pants. However, my neighborhood is in the suburbs and can hardly be considered the ghetto. So why are white people labeling anything done by a sizeable proportion of the black population as “ghetto?”

Better yet, why do some white people have to go around labeling things as “ghetto” anyway? I cannot go one day without hearing someone who is obviously not from inner city areas refer to something as “ghetto.” The way they use the word and the way they mock being “ghetto” at these parties gives off the impression they consider “ghetto” things to be inferior. If they consider “ghetto” things to be inferior and associate the word largely with black culture, what does that say about the sentiments that some white people hold towards black culture?

I do not believe that all white people believe black culture to be inferior. But that is the message spread by these themes. While I am certainly not telling people what to wear to their parties, and acknowledge that they have a right to express themselves however they see fit, these parties are unnecessary and might partly explain why so few minorities are involved in the Greek system outside of organizations that are traditionally composed of minorities. If members of the Interfraternity Council and the Panhellenic Council are serious about increasing minority recruitment, maybe they should stop planning racially insensitive exchanges.

These exchanges are aggravating racial tension on campus in general. Many white students wonder why minorities self-segregate and tend to associate with other minorities. Instead of asking why minorities are isolating themselves, maybe white students should ask themselves what they are doing to push minorities into isolation.

Matt Simmons is a senior is LAS. He never dresses like he is “in a rap video.” His column appears on Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].