Commentary: Arizona State’s Racist Party Is One of Many Examples of Intolerance

A white fraternity was expelled at Arizona State University for a racist party on Martin Luther King Day, but it is not alone in intolerant behavior.

Posted: 01/24/2014 02:10 PM EST

Just a few days after the nation celebrated the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., officials of Arizona State University have been forced to expel from campus a fraternity after it held a party that featured racial and insulting behavior.

In expelling the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, officials at Arizona State sent a message — even within that deeply red state — that bigotry has no place in a university environment.

Just to recap, the largely white fraternity held what it called an “MLK Black Party,” an event where students were asked to wear jerseys and drink from watermelon cups. Guests posted photos on Instagram with the hashtags #blackoutformlk and #hood.

The party was held on Sunday, the day before the national King holiday. By Monday, the photos from the party, with white students making what they believed to be gang signs and holding watermelon, were all over social media. To its credit, the university suspended the chapter of the fraternity swiftly, with expulsion occurring within a week.

But the question is, why are we seeing this sort of racist behavior on the part of college students in an age where there is the expectation of greater tolerance?

We have seen acts of great insensitivity in recent years. Just last October, a group of young white men and women placed photos of themselves on Facebook, wearing blackface and a blood-stained hoodie, mocking Trayvon Martin’s death at the hands of George Zimmerman.

Meanwhile, at San Jose State University, one of the nation’s most diverse colleges, three white students faced misdemeanor hate-crime charges for harassing a 17-year-old African-American roommate in a school dormitory.

And to hear officials of Black student government organizations at colleges around the country tell it, there are a number of parties with racist themes being held with regularity.

The sad truth is that insensitivity has long been a part of the landscape of American life. We have seen it to a breathtaking degree during in the Obama presidency, from the heckling at a state of the union speech to outright racist tweets about the nation’s first African-American president.

Hasan Kwame Jeffries, a professor of African-American history at Ohio State University, said it succinctly. “We assume that these young people would be more tolerant, but large universities are highly segregated and they don’t have large populations of people of color,” Jeffries said, speaking with BET.com.

“Students largely exist in different and segregated worlds,” Jeffries added. “White students see African-Americans on television but they see them as caricatures. In the absence of any interaction, they think they know Black culture.”

It seems that racism somehow filters from one generation to the next. But one can only hope that it is being passed on to an increasingly lesser degree from parent to child. That way, we can at least look forward to the day when such hate-filled behavior comes to a well-deserved end.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

(Photo: AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

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