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The Compton Cookout And Pop Culture

I've been a little preoccupied by the evolving story of the "Compton Cookout," an off-campus party organized, in part, by members of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at UCSD, and possibly by a rapper, radio host, and comedian (?) who goes by the name Jiggaboo Jones.

According to (ahem) Mr. Jones, the cookout was a DVD-release party and shouldn't be called racist. You can watch his video statements saying as much (definitely NSFW and ridiculously offensive):

I'm suspicious of Mr. Jones' timing (and entire existence), coming out as the party organizer this late in the story. After all, what a perfect way to generate publicity for his DVD.

Either way, Jiggaboo Jones' entree into the Compton Cookout controversy only slightly changes the conversation. Now, white, privileged, frat boys aren't the only villains in the story. An African-American man is part of the offending equation.

But a self-stereotyping showman and opportunist like Jones will be sad to learn that his provocations are being overshadowed by the infamous UCSD tabloid called The Koala. You gotta move fast in this world; just when you think you've got the limelight shining right on you, someone or some group shows up, tops your provocations, and suddenly it's lights out.

I'd like to step out of the realm of the self-styled, self-made provocateurs and go back to the original party. I'm interested in the pop culture influences informing this event. I want to be clear: I'm not suggesting that popular culture is to blame for the Compton Cookout or, for that matter, Jiggaboo Jones.

But I do think pop culture and the media diet of today's average college student is at work in this mess, mixing it up with the old culprits of racism, class, privilege and, good old-fashioned juvenile bone-headedness.

The invitation for the cookout, originally posted on Facebook, is shocking to those of us who attended college during the hey-day of political correctness (much of the language is pulled from a popular website called Urban Dictionary). But a fair amount of today's pop culture strives for political incorrectness. It is the bread and butter of comedians like Sarah Silverman, Bill Maher, and Seth McFarlane. And they're equal opportunity offenders.

"Black Peter" and "White Cleveland" from the animated sitcom "Family Guy."
Enlarge this image

Above: "Black Peter" and "White Cleveland" from the animated sitcom "Family Guy."

When I was growing up, the media landscape was more streamlined, and outside of sketch comedy shows, you had to search for that kind of satire. Today, it's everywhere. That's not a bad thing, in fact, it often brings me great joy. But not all of it is well done. And the good and the bad informs the personal expression of young people today, with plenty of misfires.

Today's 19-year-old college student was born in 1991. Gangsta rap was emerging as a mainstream music sensation, confirmed as such with Death Row records. Jiggaboo Jones certainly owes his persona to one of gangsta rap's founders, the incomparable Eazy-E, who died tragically in 1995 (when our college student is just 4 years old!)

More broadly, by the time our student turns 10, hip-hop dominates pop culture, and continues to do so for years to come (with various subgenres and iterations). In fact, this student spends much of his youth in a pop music and cultural mileau dominated by black culture.

In 2003, cultural critic and author of "Hip-Hop America," Nelson George tells the Boston Globe: "There have been moments in history when black music has exploded in the consciousness of the country, like Motown in the mid-'60s. What's so interesting in this case is that hip-hop has become the new mainstream. Mom and Pop at home don't get it, but truth is it's as important to the generation coming of age as the Beatles and disco was."

The pop culture of my teen years was an '80s mix of hair bands, leg warmers, John Hughes movies, and Prince. To a certain degree, I feel like I own those images and cultural phenomena. I had to suffer through them, I embraced them from time to time, celebrated them in others (Prince!!). Therefore, I feel like they are open to my ridicule and derision, so mixed up are they with my own personal memories and bursts of rebellion.

I wonder if today's white college student feels the same ownership over various strains of hip hop culture and a certain lamentable ease with black stereotypes.

The term "ghetto fabulous" has plenty of currency in pop culture (see early versions like the movie B.A.P.S.) In 2006, law students at the University of Texas at Austin held a "Ghetto Fabulous" party, which was met with a response from black students and the university similar to that of UCSD's.

Nick Transier, a first-year student who attended the Austin party and posted pictures online, said "nobody meant to offend anyone of any race. We had no intention by any measure to choose a group or class of people and make fun of them."

Really? How is that possible? It's possible if your radar has been blunted by a familiarity with those stereotypes and a failure to see their cultural and political weight.

As I noted earlier, also contributing to the cultural diet of our hypothetical college student is a media landscape saturated with satire.

In April of 1991, Comedy Central is launched. By the time our 19-year-old college student is interested in the news, he or she gets it smartly delivered and heavily seasoned with satire and humor through "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."

The animated sitcom "Family Guy" hits the airwaves in 1999, but becomes increasingly popular in the mid-2000s. Seth McFarlane's creation is "The Simpsons" for today's college set, though "Family Guy" is much nastier, ribald, and regularly plays with racial taboos. "Family Guy" is currently the second most popular watched show on Hulu, and if you don't know what Hulu is, ask the closest 19-year-old.

This is only a tiny slice of the pop culture pie digested by today's average college student (I didn't even mention reality tv-shows!) Again, I'm not suggesting that's a bad thing. Instead, it provides one window into how a young person might find various stereotypes fair game (so-called "white trash" parties are common and based on stereotypes of poor whites).

The students who participated in the Compton Cookout are being called, at worst, racist, and at best, racially insensitive. While they only have themselves to blame, it's interesting to consider how this generation has come to understand race, what they consider taboo, and how pop culture informs their perspective.

Comments

Avatar for user 'lucasoconnor'

lucasoconnor | February 23, 2010 at 3:03 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree that cultural stereotypes and appropriation have too often been given equal footing with legitimate cross-cultural evolution.

So the next question from this is: How do we differentiate between people who are legitimately working to challenge social inertia and those who are simply looking to make a buck off the lowest common denominator? And after that, what are the steps to making that differentiation more clear to the public?

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Avatar for user 'lilbamajoe'

lilbamajoe | February 23, 2010 at 3:55 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

That was a great timeline of these students cultural upbringing, I really enjoyed the blog. I grew up in the South, and I'm sure there were a lot of frat party themes that would make this look like a PTA bake sale. Still, it's the same thing, but there cultural timeline was the segregated south.

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Avatar for user 'mltinla'

mltinla | February 23, 2010 at 8:20 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Angela the problem with this event and the controversy that has ensued isn't easily housed in one's upbringing, their age, insensitivity or how to throw a proper racially charged theme party. The problem is that far to many people feel that events like this as well as dressing up in "black" face are nothing short of serious and just people, primarily white one's, just having fun and those of us who don't see it as such are just being insensitive.

It's quite possible that it has happened, but where are the white trash party's that ethnic people have thrown in white face? How many halloween party's have you been to where black people dressed up as the Ku Klux Klan carrying a burning cross or rope? Why not celebrate White History month as so many have questioned with images and captions about the Trail of Tears, Jim Crow laws or inhuman acts that white's treated on all ethnic groups and women including white females into the Civil Rights Era?

No this simply isn't just a party and ignorant people having fun, because if they were, ask yourself why people from Compton were not invited to represent or authenticate the party. Ask why whenever any non-black or ethnic group throws an event like this typically never has a significant number of those people they are mocking around.

By the way, Jigga Boo Jones doesn't need to be ashamed because he is only demonstrating why the name and reference he is emulating has never pertained to any black person I have known but to those including himself who obviously needed to classify something they felt inferior too.

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Avatar for user 'springer'

springer | February 25, 2010 at 9:25 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Is this really news worthy? Don't get me wrong, the event at UCSD was insensitive and inappropriate. I fell that the fraternity should be punished to some degree. But does this need to dominate NPR's news for days?

I also think that the news is completely biased. When Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swifts VMA award acceptance speech, no one mentioned that it was racially charged and motivated. Imagine for a second if a white male country music singer interrupted a black rapper's acceptance speech at an award ceremony. The news outlets would immediately condemn the incident as racist and demand enormous repercussions. What a strange world we live in.

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Avatar for user 'AndyShore'

AndyShore | February 25, 2010 at 9:35 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

The best way to put this in perspective is to put the shoe on the other foot. What would be everyone's reaction if the UCSD Black student Union had held a "white trash hillbilly cracker cookout?

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Avatar for user 'springer'

springer | February 25, 2010 at 10:25 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

AndyShore,

If the UCSD Black student Union held a "white trash hillbilly cracker cookout", I higly doubt anyone, especially the media, would bat an eye. I guess that's why I think this story doesn't deserve this much attention.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | February 25, 2010 at 10:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I have mixed emotions about this topic, on one hand I see the event as stupid and juvenile, but then so are a lot of other things that young people do, and that by the way includes young people of all racial backgrounds. As far as stereotypes, how many times have I seen a black comedian poke fun of people from my background - showing us as uptight whitey, or backwards white folk with pitchforks, a blade of grass between the teeth playing a banjo and producing off-spring with a cousin. Does this make the news? How about the movie Inglourious Basterds? Should the Germans and people of German heritage feel insulted? Ironically, we have a black president today in this country (I voted for him), and yet we also have all kinds of raw, insensitive, and sometimes completely exaggerated sterotypes about people from all backgrounds that remain a part of comedic routine and movies. Anyone see Borat? Perhaps some education on the subject would be helpful at the university, but let's not forget that it's not like it's only blacks who get stuck with less than flattering stereotypes. It's a cottage industry.

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Avatar for user 'jmstevenson'

jmstevenson | February 25, 2010 at 10:31 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

My own hopefulness for long term positive changes to the UCSD campus community comes as one who has enjoyed a two-year period as a volunteer facilitator of Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) workshops in prison chapels, half-way houses, and schools, and for AmeriCorps Team Leaders. AVP workshops, developed over the last thirty years, are experiential in nature. They are not lecture-driven; the learning occurs as the participants interact with each other in both serious and light-hearted exercises.
In the weekend prison workshops particularly, I have observed men come into our initial (Basic) workshops from a racially-segregated living environment, estranged from each other due to their differences and histories within the prison system, and barely able to look at or speak with each other. By the end of our workshops, these men have begun to share with each other openly, formed the beginnings of friendships across racial lines, and have new understandings about effective communication and nonviolent conflict resolution strategies. All of these positive changes are enhanced when they participate in a second (Advanced) workshop; some even become inside facilitators after a third (Training for Facilitators) workshop.
My workshop experiences with AmeriCorps Team Leaders, most of whom were college graduates, confirms my belief that AVP workshops are effective outside the penal system, allowing participants to develop the attitudes and relationships needed to build a positive community, based on communication skills, trust, compassion, and empathy.
I have a dream that AVP workshops will become commonplace events on college and university campuses, starting with UCSD. I believe that the outcomes would include a profound unifying effect on campus life.
When faced with “REAL PAIN,” the appropriate “REAL ACTIONS” called for can be summarized with the following: “DEMONSTRATE EMPATHY. ENCOURAGE EMPATHY.”

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Avatar for user 'matthew'

matthew | February 25, 2010 at 10:53 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Matthew Anderson, my father was the only African-American member of the team that brought the final incarnation of the electronic computer to the world in 1953. Katye Anderson, my mother, was Chair of San Diego Mesa College's Department for Black Studies for twenty-two years. Upon her death she was honored by Secretary Boutrous-Boutrous Ghali of the United Nations, Holland, Germany and France for her work in education. Katye piloted a team that ushered the University of California to this community years ago. A graduate of the University of Illinois with doctoral work first at Northwestern University and subsequently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I have volunteered countless hours at UCSD teaching aerobics, the martial arts to adults and children and broadcasting a radio interview show from the KSDT studios there for several years. I mention this because having submitted more than two hundred applications for employment to that institution alone, I have received but one interview. That interview was as one of three finalists from a field of more than two-hundred for an Assistant Chancellor post. What that said to me is that, though I was qualified to administer the entire University, I was not qualified to perform any lesser duties. And there's the rub. Economics and related hiring policy is the elephant in the room that no one addressed on air today during Ms. Cavanaugh's exposition. Further, as though to add an exclamation point, only two "public" comments were fielded on public radio in that hour, and neither of those comments were made by an African-American. This "formatting" problem actually represents a template for the greater problem at hand. While administrators and pundits waxed on about their bailiwicks of concern, those in the public at large most impacted by these revelations had no actual input. Thanks KPBS for discussing your interests given the topic and shame on you for that quality of continued insensitivity that has aided this problem in the first place. No one actually dealt with the notion that my tax dollars go to an institution where an individual can rise to the PhD level and still feel comfortable calling me a "N_____." This problem is structurally economic at its core and my having waited on the telephone for an hour with no redress is a metaphor for the inadequate addressing of this order of problem throughout the University of California system and the greater society. My father helped give UCSD its computers and my mother gave it wings. I have given it a great contribution at many levels but I was not allowed to voice these concerns because a white man from North County trumped my contribution with a knee jerk chiding of the national quality of sarcasm in comedy media broadcasts. And we wonder why Pi Kappa Alpha and the "Koala" staff feel that they can make racist comments with impunity. No one here, UCSD, media and the nonplused public at large is dealing from the top of the deck!

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone, KPBS Staff | February 25, 2010 at 11:04 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

@mltinla I'm certainly not suggesting the Compton Cookout or events like it should be dismissed as young people just having fun. Nor do I think the motivations of party-goers and planners are easily explained away by blaming pop culture.

In this post, I was interested in exploring how pop culture/entertainment could have contributed to the occurrence of the Compton Cookout. Not condoning it or explaining it away, just trying to understand it.

Granted, this angle is only one small part of a much bigger discussion. But it seems to me that racist forms of entertainment have emerged, in part, out of the particulars of each pop cultural moment in history.

I think the trends and attributes of pop culture for the last 20 years have some relevance in the discussion. Are they to blame? I don't like that argument. Do those trends conspire to help create perspective or lack of it? I think so.

Thanks so much for commenting.

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Avatar for user 'DBF'

DBF | February 25, 2010 at 12:33 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

As an alumnus ('93) of UCSD (and African-American) I am disturbed by the lack of sensitivity displayed by those who organized and participated in the Compton Cookout and later by the alleged use of the "N" word on a UCSD TV station. Shame on them and their abuse of the First Amendment.
However, I am also disturbed by the disrespectful and sometimes irrational and hoodlum like conduct of certain members of UCSD's African-American community. Do they really think creating "safe haven" zones for African- Americans is appropriate (or any of their other demands under the circumstances)? What about the multitude of other ethnic groups attending UCSD? Should they also have designated zones of segragation, tutors, etc? Extortion, anger and disrespect toward UCSD's administration is unproductive, immature, and does little to further the cause. They should remember the same First Amendment rights they exercise in protesting also protects those they are protesting against.
To this end and most importantly, I am disturbed by the apparent attempt to trample on our Constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression. It is a slippery slope. Today the protestors target the conduct of immature and insensitive college students who engaged in conduct off campus. Tomorrow, religious organizations who believe and express certain views not necessarily held by others could be the target. I hope this email is not censored.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | February 25, 2010 at 2:31 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

It would be far wiser to look at the influence of pop culture (especially in rap music) in promoting and inflaming racial hatred and mistrust aimed at Caucasians and authorities such as police officers and judges.

This whole event is a sad example of the hypocritical stance of UCSD Chancellor Fox and her administration. She condemns an off-campus, unsanctioned, non-affiliated, private party by instituting racially-based discriminatory policies at UCSD. Her reaction displays the myopic and self-serving attitude of many academics who have no desire to create a truly fair, even, and color-blind admission process.

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Avatar for user 'rgasca'

rgasca | February 25, 2010 at 6:50 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

As women of color at the University of San Diego, we are outraged and saddened by the events and actions of the students involved in the “Compton Cookout” from the University of California San Diego. This is not merely a disappointment in the implicated fraternities, but also in any other persons who planned or attended this event. To those students who were affected by this disgusting display of racism, know that members of the USD community support you. An injustice to one is an injustice to all.

Incidents like this confirm that the legacy of American colonialism still pervades our everyday lives. White supremacy and heteronormativity, built on the backs of people of color and low-wage labor, are the standards by which social structures are constituted and passed down to the next generation. The party that was meant to be a lighthearted event parallels 20th-century lynching parties where throngs of people would congregate to lynch one or more African-Americans and then proceed to feast and BBQ.

It is a mockery, an attraction created for the socially and politically protected so that poverty and racism are no longer real and viable issues; instead they have become themes for parties of the privileged. This heinous disregard for the plight of people living in impoverished communities justifies their continued dehumanization. The students who took part, whether they organized or attended this racist, heterosexist, classist party, must be held accountable for their actions and make a public apology for this inexcusable gathering. We call for this to be an educational moment on the themes of self-definition and community self-determination because, in the words of Malcolm X, “Without education, you’re not going anywhere in this world.” We stand in solidarity with UCSD’s Black Student Union and support its important demands.

ADRIANA SECORD

ALYSSA CROW

C. MARIE HOLLOWAY

RACHEL GASCA

SARAH MIRALLES

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | February 26, 2010 at 5:18 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

Rgasca,

You are incredibly misinformed and quite uneducated with your blanket statement that you have copied and pasted throughout the KPBS articles.

The creator and mastermind of the "Compton Cookout" was in fact, a black man. See his response to the Black Student Union's overreaction here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y95G-L...

We think you owe an apology to every single Caucasian you pass at UCSD and should be grateful to attend such a world-renowned institution. "An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it." -Mahatma Gandhi

BILL JOHNSTON

DAISY MCCLEMONT

ROGER STANFORD

LYDIA ALLEN

STANLEY WERNER

...and the rest of the reasonable rational moderates of San Diego who sat in committee and concluded we should answer your blanked post with a blanket post

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Avatar for user 'springer'

springer | February 26, 2010 at 11:30 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

AMEN CALIFORNIA DEFENDER!!!

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Avatar for user 'expat'

expat | February 26, 2010 at 12:37 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

yeah, totally blown out of proportion:
http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/feb/26/noose-protest-ucsd/

Student admits leaving noose at UCSD: Latest incident has spurred new rallies

By Karen Kucher, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Steve Schmidt, UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Originally published February 26, 2010 at 8:34 a.m., updated February 26, 2010 at 10:31 a.m.

SAN DIEGO — Campus police at the University of California San Diego are questioning a student who admitted she hung a noose on the seventh floor of the university library Thursday night.

The incident is the third racially charged episode on the campus in two weeks, and has spurred a new round of rallies.

"This is truly a dark day in the history of this university," Chancellor Marye Anne Fox told students gathered along Library Walk. "It's abhorrent and untenable."

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Avatar for user 'flagwaver'

flagwaver | February 26, 2010 at 2:12 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

would this be so funny if it was a "Beverly Hlls" party and everyone walked around with fake long noses, and talked about how they were going to screw their gentile neighbors with big interest rates on loans at their pawn shop or jewelry store? Should we say, bring your women, and have them whine and cry all evening and act like a "chosen person"? Should we say, act rude and obnoxious and have no manners, and be loud. Make sure you talk "show business" and discuss the fact that it helps being Jewish in order to get ahead in this arena and laugh and laugh.

. It goes both ways my friends, what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
If we allow such poor taste and "hate" to denigrate one group, why should't this type of "hate" and poor taste be allowed for all ethnic groups. Wouldn't this be a wonderful society? You guys are in college, act your age.

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Avatar for user 'RobertK'

RobertK | February 26, 2010 at 5:34 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

white trash hillbilly cracker cookout????????????

Where!? last one I was at, the bbq was GREAT! Everyone had a lot of fun.

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Avatar for user 'forgiven490x'

forgiven490x | February 26, 2010 at 9:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

As a black man I've never been too involved in issues of oppression and have rarely been subject to them. I recognize them, they're hurtful and confusing, but having never really experienced their brunt makes this issue complicated for me;
I didn't even realize a black man organized the party... stupid.
The frat kids, I'm thinking, don't have a clue as to how racist of an act their "cookout" was, likely due to some of the variables addressed in this blog. They probably have no idea why black history month is important, or how whites and blacks truly aren't equal in America (if not the world).
I don't think the kids should be expelled. Severely reprimanded, forced to learn a detailed truth of black history so they understand why such activities are horribly offensive, fined, suspended, etc. But taking away someone's education because they're idiots is a bit excessive.
The radio program; THAT was horrible! Calling the black students, "ungrateful" as if they'd been saved by the gifting of white education. I find that more offensive than when they called blacks whatever racial epithet they used.
Finally, noose girl. *rolls eyes and shakes head* - Cause for alarm? Yes. Terrorism is not a game, whether she meant it as a joke, or not. If she truly didn't realize the significance of that act I can understand giving her a little benefit of the doubt. But to not have any clue when everyone outside is chanting about recent racial events, that's doubtful. If she were expelled I wouldn't be surprised, or necessarily in opposition.

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Avatar for user 'forgiven490x'

forgiven490x | February 26, 2010 at 10:06 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

DBF, I'm with you word for word.

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Avatar for user 'HereWeAre'

HereWeAre | February 27, 2010 at 2:07 p.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

CaliforniaDefender -

What is the source of your anger? Why should people be apologizing to white students? No one is targeting white students. Nor is anyone discriminating against non-Blacks.

And where do you get the idea that the administration is abandoning academic excellence and denying opportunities to non-Blacks? That's just a ridiculous notion.

Have you noticed that caring students of all races and backgrounds support the idea of making the campus feel safer and more welcome to members of underrepresented groups?

You say people "should be grateful to attend such a world-renowned institution". Is the world so black-and-white to you? 'Just be grateful you're here. Don't have a voice. Don't try to improve anything. Don't try to make the institution you're paying to attend feel safe and comfortable.' Really?

According to ERASE Racism,

"Racism = racial prejudice plus institutional and systemic power to dominate, exclude, discriminate against or abuse targeted groups of people based on a designation of race. While racial prejudice can result in mistreatment, racism results in a special type of mistreatment: oppression. Oppression results when

(1) racism is a part of the dominant culture's national consciousness;

(2) it is reinforced through its social institutions; and

(3) there is an imbalance of social and economic power within the culture."

From: http://www.eraseracismny.org/html/whatis/whatis.php

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Avatar for user 'AJalota'

AJalota | March 2, 2010 at 10:52 a.m. ― 4 years, 5 months ago

I liked this article. =)

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