Jackson 5 imitators at UT beyond the pale?

Students at the University of Tennessee are in deep doodoo for blacking up to represent the Jackson 5 for a party or something.


Their fraternity has been suspended; is this ridiculous PC overkill, or no more than they deserve?

I don’t think that the frat activity was heinous. It was, however, extraordinarily stupid.

Given the national hoopla that surrounded the two “blackface” incidents in nearby states last Hallowe’en, (and the UT administration claims to have initiated a workshop on this very issue at that time), I have to believe that these guys were either being deliberately provocative or that they were probably not smart enough to continue in a college program. (I would also be curious as to whether they used pancake or shoe polish. I would tend to cut them a lot of slack if they used artfully applied stage makeup. Following last year’s events, however, it was a dumb thing to do.)

In general, people making up to look like people of other ethnicities should not be that big of a deal. This is particularly true when there is not an obvious intent to be insulting. (Dressing up as the Jackson Five could have been consistent with a “come as an entertainer” theme, or it could be a mocking of silly 70s stuff without regard to the racial issue, or it could have been a specifically intended insult. Without hearing the students’ side of the story, I would reserve judgment. If they claimed either of the first two motives, I would chalk it up to stupidity over malice.)

The problem with whites going in blackface, particularly, is that there are still many people alive who can remember “minstrel shows” that were deliberately insulting to blacks. (And a lot of us who are a bit too young to have seen one, have certainly heard about them.) In addition, much white-on-black humor that no longer makes it into the movies is still performed in private settings. At this point, the impression conveyed by whites in blackface still conjures up too many associations of discrimination and bigotry. We are just too close to those historical events.

I hope that the day comes when a white kid can pretend to be Michael Jackson or Tiger Woods without it being perceived as an insult, but as long as the first impression of a large number of people is that it is insulting, trying to push that day forward is not very bright.

Ridiculous. PC. Overkill.

The article says they painted their faces but it didn’t say they were in “blackface” which would probably be overboard. Why is making your costume more accurate so wrong?

I’m assuming they were white guys, right? What if three of them dressed as women and went as the Dixie Chicks? Would that be offensive to women?

Or, what if five guys from the fraternity painted their faces white (Caucasian-flesh tone), dressed as a construction worker, Indian chief, biker (can’t remember the rest) and went as the Village People? Would that be offensive to the campus gays?

How about a black student with a white jumpsuit, pompadour wig and painted on Elvis flesh tone? Who would care?

PC overkill. I hope the pendulum has come back to the midpoint by the time my kids are in college - starting in 15 years.

Yes, it was stupid, but not morally wrong. Remember the Central Park jogger who was raped an almost murdered as she ran alone? Our office manager blamed the victim for being in that dangerous area. From the OM’s POV, the jogger was stupid to be there.

tomndebb, that day was here decades ago; the PC folks have taken that right away from us.

It’s more prudent to avoid PC police or Central Park muggers, but I must confess having some respect for those with the courage to use the park or to exercise free speech.

I just came across this comment from a blog by UCLA Law Professor Eugene Volokh:

Pasty-faced UT student here, speaking in. (Wow, my University make the national pepers, for having stupif frat boys. Yay.)

The frat has been suspended for a year. What really happened was that the boys were at a party when a black girl saw them. For obvious reasons, she was pretty pissed, and I cannot blame her, as much as I dislike PC. I don’t think the fratboys meant to cause harm, but it doesn’t change the fact that they did something truly moronic. Not really despicable, mind you, but I just can’t work up any sympathy for them.

But maybe I’m just biased against Fratboys.

From the article…

I think if you paint your face to look like Jermaine Jackson, that counts as “blackface”.

I’m assuming that it’s the Costumed Jacksons, not the Just Folks Jacksons that the Kappa Sig guys were dressed up as, because otherwise how would anybody have known who they were?

I think this is important:

So they just went over this last year, with all the Greeks, and the Kappa Sig guys went ahead and did it anyway.

I see clueless people.

But I think suspending the entire fraternity is a bit much. When fraternities get suspended, it should be for important things like drinking violations (drinking age in Illinois is 21) and rape. The Tekes at EIU were suspended, famously, a number of years ago, for a drunken bash in which a naked coed was found the next morning handcuffed to a stair banister.

IMO dressing up like Jermaine Jackson for Halloween isn’t that big a deal, except that in this case, like Tom said, it seems to indicate that the five people involved would be better served by a vo-tech trade school somewhere.

Arrant nonsense. Whoever these nameless “PC people” might be, they did not take away anyone’s right to make an ass of themselves or to offend other people. The offense given is not judged by some committee of “political correctness” but by the humans who are personally offended by having painful memories thrust in their faces.
(Or do you take the time to go to Skokie every few years to show your solidarity with the Klan’s right to march, because the local citizens are simply being “PC” for claiming insult?)

The fraternity’s free speech rights were taken away by University Administrators, who did indeed behave as a committee of political correctness.

I have no idea what this means. It sounds like Godwin’s cousin.

There are several relevent issues:[ul][li]What was the fraternity’s intent?[]How great was the feeling of offense in the minority community?[]To what degree was the expressed offense a way to seek power?[]Is the feeling of offence appropriate?[]Should a community be governed by feelings of offense?[/ul]To address the last question, it’s impossible to use feeling offended as a universal governing principle. E.g., Some on campus felt offended by the Adminsitration action. (E.g., Law Professor Glenn Reynolds) Should the administrators be sanctioned because of his feelings? And some on campus may feel offended at Prof. Reynolds blog, so should he be sanctioned? Where does it end?[/li]
To use feelings as a governing principle is necessarily one-way; otherwise it’s an endless chain. The power group gets official support group for their feelings; the out group does not. So, when members of the privileged group express feelings of offense and demand sanctions, this can be a way to reinforce their power.

True, tomndebb, but where do we draw the line? The mere memory of past transgressions is not enough to justify outrage unless the wounds are still fresh. Eventually a line must be drawn where we say “enough already” and stop coddling imaginary victims. It would be silly for a Jewish student to chastise a student of Egyptian descent for dressing as Albert Einstein because of the ancient Pharoahs’ slavery of the Hebrews. The question here is whether the wounds caused by minstrel shows are fresh enough for the University of Tennesee to take action.

My intent here is not to scoff at the girl who took offense. I can see how this could touch a nerve. Rather, I wish to point out the flaw in your reasoning. People can be, and are, offended by anything. Regardless of the free speech issue, there is a point where we as a society must say “get over yourself already” lest we be swamped with a thousand voices screaming for reparations for a thousand separate insults. The logic of “insult is in the eye of the beholder” may hold on the surface, but there is a point where the person who was “insulted” should not be taken seriously. A hypothetical example: A student at UT is insulted by the mascot, the volunteer. He did his family tree a while back and found out that some of his ancestors were British sympathizers during the revolutionary war. They were ostracized by the surrounding community and even beaten by some military volunteers. Obviously there was a wrong committed 230 years ago by the volunteers, but taking the student’s “insult” seriously is just silly. The key is to find where we draw the line.

Also tomndeb, it is bad form to insult someone in GD by implying they are a KKK member, even if you and december have a history.

DDG - “Blackface” is the black paint and big white lips look of the movies in the 30’s, vaudeville, etc. and has generally been associated with a racist joke (at least in the last 20-30 years).

Here’s the first google link picture I found:


If they painted their faces to look more like a (young) Michael, Marlon, Tito - - - brown skin tone, then that’s not the same as the traditional “blackface” look. I disagree with you that brown skin tone paint to look like Jermaine is the same as “blackface.”

Which is totally irrelevant to our original exchange.

I said that I hoped that society would get to the point where memories were not so fresh that any depiction of blackface was found insulting.

You claimed that we had already been there, but that the point was somehow removed by the evil forces of PC.

I submit that we have never had a period in the past where blackface did not conjure up direct memories of deliberate insults and that your claim that “PC” has somehow reimposed an earlier insult is not true.

I have never claimed that there cannot be PC foolishness, and have remarked on such cases as the Penn State “water buffalo” incident, myself. Your apparent contention that people are only offended because the PC police tell them to be insulted is arrant nonsense.

The wounds are still fresh. Blackface routines were still showing up in movies and cartoons (made in the 30 and 40s) on TV when I was in college, and probably later than that. Similar routines continued to show up in local (public) skits and variety acts into the late 70s. That is current history to an awful lot of people.

And I did not accuse december of being a Klan member either explicitly or implicitly. I asked him if his campaign to stamp out PC extended to lending moral support to a specific action. In the contrext of his claims, it would seem that the residents of Skokie are simply being led astray by the evil forces of PC. If he has not opposed those evil PC forces, there, then he is being just a tad hypocritical, here.

He did no such thing. He was factually incorrect; IIRC, it was the Nazi Party, not the KKK, who marched in Skokie. But considering the history of events in Skokie, particularly the involvement of the ACLU, supporting the right to march in Skokie in no way implies membership in the KKK.

But back to the topic at hand. The staying power of blackface as insult fascinates me. The black college student who saw the kids and reported the incident was probably born in the early 80’s. So her parents were probably born in the late 50s, and their parents were born in the early 30s (considering that people of both the parents’ and grandparents’ generation had kids earlier than people today. So the grandparents would have, at most, an extremely fuzzy early childhood memory of minstrel shows.
It is most likely that the students’ great-grandparents are her closet relations with memories of the insult that was minstrel shows, and even assuming that the student ever even knew her great-grandparents, somehow I doubt that said great-grandparents regaled the student with stories of the horrors of blackface.

Yet seeing these five white boys dressed up a singing group that consisted of black people invoked such a strong reaction in this woman that she complained to the school administration - when most college students count themselves lucky if they never deal with the administration in any way, shape or form.

I’m not really sure what conclusions to draw from this. Hell, maybe all it means is that Jung was right. :smiley:


Playig the other side now: This may be true, but understand that to people who weren’t even a twinkle in their daddy’s eye at the time ( and given our differeing ideas of right and wrong) that is an EXTREMELY long time. In the mind at least.

tomndeb, as you well know from reading my post, my point was not to debate the freshness of the wounds caused by minstrel shows, but simply to point out that the “eye of the beholder” argument is deeply flawed. This is obvious when aplied to other more petty situations. A single individual may not dictate the morals of an entire society and thus his or her perception of an incident cannot be the supreme standard implied by your statement “offense given is judged by the humans who are personally offended” [edited for brevity]. Society as a whole has a responsibility to discount the grievances of a few lest it be drowed in a cacophony of petty complaints. It is the group, not the individual, who must ultimately decide the severity of offenses ranging from ill tempered words all the way to violent crime. I would even go so far as to call the eye-of-the-beholder argument “arrant nonsense”.

Does anyone remember a recent Saturday Night Live skit in which Darrell Hammond portrayed Jesse Jackson? Was that across the line? Hammond wore no makeup in the skit – but if he had, would THAT have been over the line?

In this matter, I’m with december, but take it one step further and remove the “fresh memories” caveat. IMHO, simple offense, without significant, demonstrable harm (i.e. not mere embarrassment), should not be enough to make a given action “prosecutable”.

I believe that “offensive things” (Confederate flags, blackface, etc.) are given undue power in our society. The offense they cause, IMHO, is not necessarily visceral for most claiming offense. Offense at Item XYZ is a learned response. Such a response can be unlearned – and again IMHO, rather quickly – by society at large ceasing to give undue attention to “offensive” items.

When Billy Crystal used to imitate Sammy Davis Jr on SNL, he wore black makeup. Was there any outrage?

In my humble opinion, simply dressing up as an individual of a particular race shouldn’t be considered offensive. If one dressed up as a general stereotype, in order to make fun of the race itself, obviously that would be offensive.

H8_2_W8: Right, I know what “nigger minstrel” type blackface is, I was saying that in terms of political correctness, painting your face to look like Jermaine Jackson probably counts as “blackface”.
I think the national Kappa Sigma fraternity suspending the whole chapter for a year was a little over the top as far as punishment goes. Looking up the other recent “fraternity blackface” incidents, I find that one of them involved an entire skit performed during a Homecoming Week variety show, not merely dressing up for a private party. However, all the Tekes of UW-Whitewater got was basically probation, plus they had to pay a big fine, and send a written apology to not only the black students’ group, but send copies of it to all 120 student groups on campus.

But the entire fraternity wasn’t suspended by their national organization.


In the incident in Alabama, however, not only were the frat boys who took part temporarily suspended from school, but also both fraternity chapters were apparently completely disbanded by their national organizations.


So I think the Auburn incident sounds more “racist” than the UW incident, which sounds more “clueless”, and I think the punishments reflect that.

In the OSU incident, however, it was only “probation”, and I have no clue why, as it sounds just as overtly racist as the Auburn incident.



The tolerance.org site also has links to the actual OSU pix (and why on earth are these things still posted?), and I don’t consider myself a kneejerk PC-type person, but I thought they were offensive, too. I mean, I’m sorry, is this supposed to be funny?

In comparison to this, dressing up like the Jackson 5 seems harmless.

I have opened the thread several times and even posted two pretty well thought out comments. It is only now, five hours after reading the title for the first time, that I get the pun.

How did I miss that?