2002-10-13 Holland Sentinel Blinders on Cultural ignorance leads to gaffes like Ghetto party

Blinders on Cultural ignorance leads to gaffes like ‘ghetto’ party
Holland Sentinel

Our first reaction upon reading about the controversy at Hope College over a ghetto-themed party planned by a student group last month was: What where these people thinking?

How could someone in modern, multicultural America plan an event in which privileged young whites were to act out their stereotypes of inner-city African-Americans and not think people would be offended? Alas, such behavior is hardly unprecedented here. It was just two years ago that some participants in the Douglas Mardi Gras parade put on black face in what they claimed was a “tribute” to the Little Rascals characters, and them reacted with astonishment when they were accused of racial insensitivity.

By all accounts, the students behind the “ghetto” party acted out of ignorance rather than maliciousness. Perhaps they were unaware of how whites have degraded blacks through demeaning portrayals for centuries in America. Perhaps they didn’t think of what they were doing when they planned a public event equating urban African-American life with the misogynistic and thuggish lifestyle of gangsta rap. But how can such insensitivity exist?

Ignorance persists when we live our lives in isolation from other races and ethnic groups. Ignorance breeds stereotypes-knowledge kills them. Anyone who takes the time to get to know people of other races, or at least learn about their culture, will be quickly disabused of their misperceptions; at the very least, they can’t claim they don’t understand the sensitivities of others. However, it’s all too easy in Holland, especially for whites, to live, work and attend school without engaging in anything more than brief, surface interaction with people of other ethnic groups.

Hope College officials reacted appropriately to the party incident, encouraging organizers to change the theme and issue and apology and then addressing the issue during a chapel service. And a little more than a week later, the college hosted an event designed to root out ignorance and stereotypes at an earlier age. At last week’s Calling All Colors conference, 166 local middle schoolers came together to promote diversity, address their prejudices and better understand other cultures.

It’s safe to say that if the participants took the lessons of the conference seriously and learned to walk a mile in another’s shoes, they won’t be making the mistake of throwing a ghetto party when they get to college.