The Dartmouth Observer
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Attack of the Killer Tards, part II
So I receive the following blitz this morning. (Twice...)
"--- Forwarded message from Kwabena A. Safo-Agyekum ---
>Date: 13 Nov 2003 01:17:40 EST
>From: Kwabena A. Safo-Agyekum
>Subject: ARE THE AIRES AIRHEADS?!
>To: (Recipient list suppressed)
So, after going to Ramuntos for some free pizza, Una and I decided to go check out the Aires show at Alpha Xi and to our surprise we heard more than just singing. After the group had perfromed several songs, they took some time to introduce their newest members - two of whom were white and two of whom were black. The two new white members were introduced by their names while standing before the crowd, and the the two new black members were back stage as their names were just quickly rambled off.
Then, the two black members came on to the stage and one of them performed and attempted to teach two white members (I don't know if these two white members were the two newest members who had just been introduced or the two who had done the introductions) how to step. The two white members who were being taught to step, feigned the movements and made mockery of them. This seemed to be funny and was well received by the crowd.
And now here is the part of the show where Una and I were completely offended. So, after trying to perform the step, the two white members proceded to teach the two black members something, too. They said something along the lines of, "Now we are going to teach you something that our people have had for a long time, and that is words." (This is not an exact quote but it is very close to what was said).
The two white members then pulled out a sheet of white paper with the word "CAT" written on it in capital letters. Then they said to the two black members that "CAT" is made up of letters that make sounds, which are read to make words. At this point, Una and I could not stand to hear anymore and by the silence that was very present in the room, others had been shocked by what they were seeing as well.
Una and I don't know what the intentions were behind this skit but we felt you all should know what happened and felt obliged to share this with you. I apologize in advance if you get this more than once and please forward this to other people."
I just deleted and shook head until this baby came across the channel:
"--- Forwarded message from Ahmad M. Abdur-Rahim ---
>Date: 13 Nov 2003 12:42:45 EST
>From: Ahmad M. Abdur-Rahim
>Subject: ARE THE AIRES AIRHEADS?!
>To: James E. Wright
>Bcc: John A. Stevenson
Dear President Wright,
I don't know if you have been informed of this event yet, but it is very disturbing to me not just as a member of the black community but as a member of the Dartmouth community at large. I think this event is an extreme form of racial bigotry and quite frankly it is embarrassing that this level of ignorance exists here at Dartmouth, one of the most prestigious institutions in the country. We at Dartmouth pride ourselves on intellectualism, acceptance and at the very least open-mindedness, but if we truly possesed these qualities, these manifestations of racial prejudice and bigotry would not manifest themselves so blatantly at least at our institution. And even subtle manifestations of racism are to be condemned, but the first step is to address the obvious ones first.
I don't see this incident as any different from the incident that occured at the University of Auburn a couple of years ago where some young men at a Fraternity party dressed up in black face mimicking the days of black faced minstrelsy and pretended to be lynched by a group of clans members who were also their fraternity brothers. I think as a member of this community that it would behoove us to take this incident into consideration and seriously consider how to prevent similar situations from occuring in the future. This incident can be taken as a step back from the diversity we seek to promote here at Dartmouth or a step forward in combating this issue. If we step and deal with the matter the way we should, addressing racial prejudice and bigotry in an open forum and condemning it in this recent manifestation and all other forms of it we will be moving in the right direction from this incident. In this way, we will benefit from this incident as it may serve as a means of promoting diversity and acceptance. However, if we merely allow it to pass us by unaddressed, we will only be facilitators of the gross reality of social predujice and racial bigotry that still exists in our society despite our many efforts to dispel them. I am sure Dartmouth College would not like to be seen in this light. It is not a true reflection of what we stand for as a college, nor should it be misconstrued as the type of people we have here. "
I usually just shake my head at the things that some people concern themselves with, but today I decided to intervene from my detached and dispassionate position. I had this to say:
"--- Forwarded message from John A. Stevenson ---
>Date: 13 Nov 2003 15:04:11 EST
>From: John A. Stevenson
>Reply-To: Truth and Order
>Subject: Re: ARE THE AIRES AIRHEADS?!
>To: James E. Wright
Dear President Wright,
First I would like to apologize for sending you one more blitz on what has probably been, given your job, a busy day as usual. That being said I would like to point out some mitigating factors that I, also African-American, observed in the reporting of the incident and in the culture of the college at large that should have caused Mr. Abur-Rahim to soften his claim if not forgone writing them at all.
1. The cast of the skit was multi-racial.
Given the relatively small size of an organization like the Aires and the strength of the bonds that form among members of talent-based groups, everyone in the group had not only agreed to particpate in said event but most likely were involved in the shaping of the event itself. When I read the blitz that reported these incidents, my first reaction was not one of horror, it was rather to wonder why, given the gravity and awkwardness of the discourse surrounding race relations on campus, a shock humour approach was taken. What were these individuals attempting to communicate/ offer commentary on concerning the nature of campus life?
2. Aires skits are usually a form of social commentary in which a lot of time and thought have been put.
This skit was something that both the black and white students in the group wanted to do. When it was being thought of and written, members of the group probably engaged in editing it and were most likely aware of the ramifications of this skit. Thus it seems to me that calling this skit "racist", which would imply lack of knowledge and/or sensitivity, does not do justice to amount of thought that went into said skit.
3. (most importantly) Dartmouth College, as an institution, can never be accused of ignoring the presence and persistence of in egalitarian social structures.
This college, in my short stay here, has followed the multicultural wisdom as much as any institution could have. Students from less privileged walks of life can enjoy the bounty that is Dartmouth due to a generous financial aid program. Efforts are continually being made to solicit more alumni donations to increase the endowment toward that end. Dartmouth has supported, both socially and financially, student groups that spread the message of diversity. There is no end to the diversity programming and discussion. Dartmouth has created the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity to serve as a watchdog organization and a source of vision. The Office of Pluralism and Leadership now coordinates the deans who address many issue areas that some individuals on campus find central to their conception of personal identity- whether that be race, ethnic origin or sexuality.
You yourself have, in numerous public occasions, expounded a historical and intellectual philosophy of multiculturalism. You even went so far as offer an opinion on the two Michigan cases, which at that time were still up in the air, and filed a 'friend of the court' brief to outline the values that Dartmouth, as an institution of higher learning, held regarding this issue.
I think that given these three salient realities, Mr. Abur-Rahim's letter was stirring rhetoric, had this actually been an issue.
Again, the apologies regarding your time,
John A. Stevenson '05 "
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