If you don’t believe in treating all cultures with respect, I highly recommend that you stop reading now.
About a week ago, I hopped on Facebook and was greeted with a BuzzFeed video focused on people of Hispanic descent describing what it felt like to see people dressed as the stereotypical Mexican (maracas, rainbow poncho, sombrero – the works). It was widely shared among my friends, but for those of you who didn’t see it – it wasn’t pretty. One guy basically said, “No one I know dresses like this!”
The takeaway? Don’t dress like a culture. They aren’t costumes, they’re people.
Fast forward to today. I, once again, hopped on Facebook and saw something that completely goes against what I saw a week ago. A picture of President James Ramsey, in a rainbow poncho, standing with a group of people wearing sombreros and smiling while holding maracas. What?
To pile on top of it, the picture was described as a Halloween party with staff members (so these people all work for U of L) and it was held at Ramsey’s mansion that the university pays for. Yes, this is the same place The Courier-Journal reported was often empty because Ramsey and his wife live somewhere else. (Let’s hold off on discussing the fact that donor, student and state funds go to take care of an empty mansion.)
It’s been about two hours and I’m still dumbfounded. The president of a school that prides itself in diversity opted to dress himself and his staff as a culture for Halloween. Not just a culture, but a minority that is frequently faced with prejudice. Not just a culture, but a completely wrongfully depicted culture according to people who are actually in that culture.
There’s a word for this. It’s called racism.
Never mind that if a fraternity threw a party with a Mexican theme and pictures of them in these outfits got out, they would be in huge trouble just like countless other Greek organizations across the country in the past few years.
As the president of a university, I would expect more. As the president of a university currently in the middle of a scandal in the national news, I would expect even more than that. I would expect discretion. I would expect thought and research into whether or not this is considered offensive. Frankly, I would expect more creativity in costume selection. But I guess my expectations are too high for Ramsey.
A year ago, The Cardinal published a flow chart (page 13) to help students understand if their costume choice was racist or otherwise offensive. A quick scan of my Facebook or Twitter feeds would show that U of L students understand how not to be racist with their costumes (or ever) and why that matters. I’m embarrassed that our president doesn’t have the same knowledge.
I said it once, but I guess Ramsey needs to hear it again – they’re not costumes, they’re people.
Oct. 30 – 11:54 a.m.: Editor’s note: I contacted university spokesperson John Karman for comment for this story. The following is the response from Kathleen Smith, Ramsey’s Chief of Staff:
Photo courtesy / The Courier-Journal