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UC Irvine fraternity’s offensive ‘blackface’ Jay-Z parody video sparks outrage

By Rory Carroll, The Guardian
Saturday, April 27, 2013 7:45 EDT
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Asian American fraternity apologizes for Suit and Tie skit as University of California, Irvine experiences new race row

An Asian American fraternity has revived allegations of racism at the University of California, Irvine, by making a parody music video in blackface and posting it on YouTube.

Four members of the Lambda Theta Delta fraternity recorded a homemade skit in which one wore black make-up to impersonate the rapper Jay-Z, prompting recriminations and apologies. The students said the parody of the Jay-Z and Justin Timberlake song Suit and Tie was intended as harmless fun but student organisations and university authorities condemned it as insensitive and racist.

“We’d like to point out that this blackface video isn’t the first, nor is it the last, example of racism that’s been shown on this campus,” Ainaria Johnson, co-chairwoman of UCI’s Black Student Union, told the Daily Pilot. Johnson noted that a second video on the fraternity’s YouTube page featured a blackface.

In 2011, a chef at the university caused a spat by serving fried chicken and waffles, an African American culinary stereotype, to mark Martin Luther King day.

Thomas Parham, UCI’s vice chancellor for student affairs, told the Daily Pilot that university authorities were investigating the Jay-Z impersonation video. “We as a campus, I as an administrator, we are shocked,” he said. We are dismayed to see what I think is insensitive in a video parody that was made by these individuals.”

It was unclear if the use of blackface, a throwback to minstrel and vaudeville shows which parodied black people, stemmed from ignorance or disregard, said Parham. “In either case it’s reprehensible.”

Black students comprise about 2.6% of the university’s 27,000-strong student body.

The members of Lambda Theta Delta, the university’s oldest and biggest Asian American fraternity, posted the video earlier this month with the disclaimer: “No racism intended. All fun and laughter.” Its existence was first reported by OC Weekly.

The Asian Pacific Student Association called the video “deeply offensive”. The Black Student Union made a formal complaint.

The fraternity posted an apology on its Facebook page. “The use of black face in the video is incredibly offensive as well as insensitive. This behavior is simply unacceptable and the individuals responsible for the video have already been reprimanded within the organization prior to the public outcry to which this formal apology is responding.”

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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