Gaieties Racial Intolerance Brouhaha

As discussed on this blog and over at the Daily, Ujamaa residents walked out of this year’s Gaieties because of material that they deemed offensive. According to the Daily article, the Ujamaa staff identified the following content as inappropriate:

Zimbroff and Yvorn Aswad-Thomas ’11, another Ujamaa RA, pointed to the show program’s “lexicon” list, portrayals of Native Americans as visibly intoxicated and an ad-libbed line about dressing up for a party as “Rosa-Parks black” as a few examples that led to the group walking out of the performance about 45 minutes into the show.

The walkout has generated quite a bit of controversy on campus. Now, the leaders of Gaieties have come out and proposed a town hall to discuss the future of the Stanford tradition on campus (can’t really see that being all that productive, but I guess we’ll see).

Now as a way of explaining the debate and the two sides, I thought it’d be fun to select some excerpts from some of the more amusing/provocative comments on the Daily article.

As I see it, there are two main sides: 1) the “loosen up” side, and 2) the “we’re offended” side. A commenter under the name “Grow Up” strongly summarizes side #1’s position:

From an outsider, the Gaieties mission has always seemed to be to insult everyone and everything. It’s a glorified roast. Any one person can go into Gaieties and be offended on so, so many levels. That’s part of the point.

This is like Jesse Jackson yelling “racism” whenever he finds a little pet project. It weakens the argument when there’s ACTUALLY stuff to get offended over.

Michael Tubbs ’12 took up the cause for side #2:

Stanford do better. There is no excuse at all that justifies making fellow Cardinal students feel marginalized and ridiculed at any time- much less a time of school pride!

One former freshman RA provided a more nuanced argument for the “loosen up” team, arguing that the real problem was a failure by the Uj RAs:

It seems that this situation is the fault of the Ujamaa staff for not properly preparing their students for what they would see in Gaieties. This year’s script was no more offensive, raunchy or politically incorrect than in years past. It is a well known, understood and accepted fact that Gaieties is filled with over-the-top jokes that will poke fun at our campus and many of the groups that exist here. It is the job of freshman RAs to explain the nature of Gaieties and prepare the freshmen for what they will see.

Commenter Gaby made an attempt at nuance for side #2 by drawing a distinction between making fun of the “systematically oppressed” and “those who are not”:

”Making fun” of those who have been and still are systematically oppressed is not the same as “making fun” of those who are not, a nuance that seems to be overlooked in this discussion.

One commenter under the name “Two edged sword” tied the walkout back to the recent controversy over the “white privilege” fliers:

By making a big deal, the African American community is raising awareness as to how they feel, and I get it, the humor was offensive. But at the same time, it appears to be asking for a special privilege that no one else has requested.

I recently saw a flier titled “white privilege: I got into Stanford without having my peers suspect that I only got in because of my race.” The point was to demonstrate an underlying insecurity in the non-white community about being treated better for being a minority. If that is a real insecurity, then minorities asking for special treatment from Gaieties may only serve to reinforce that insecurity.

There are plenty more comments that are worthwhile reads (check ’em all out here), but I’ll end with one that I’m pretty sympathetic to:

All of this supposed comparisons to great comedians and appeals to irony are nonsense. None of it was funny. If it had been done in a comedic manner and not just comedy defined at the most offensive thing we can think of, fewer people would be offended. The writing for Gaieties is just terrible is doesn’t seem to get any better. Beating a dead horse, which is what these stale, vapid, stereotypes were doing is not comedy.

Hear, hear the commenter known as “it simply wasn’t ironic” — offensive or not, Gaieties just wasn’t all that funny.

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