While in grad school, my friend Chrissy and I had many conversations about how lonely academic work can be. We wished there were more ways to bring together our friends – who were from a variety of backgrounds – to celebrate the Black history and culture we were learning about in school and had grown up with.
We decided to throw a Black Studies Halloween party – All Things Cosby. In between enjoying Jello Pudding Pops, dancing to the original Fat Albert’s junkyard band and singing along to Jasmine Guy’s signature hit “Try Me,” we crowned the winner of our costume contest (who came as both Freddie and Shazza from A Different World). So many of our friends who are now pursuing careers as professors, doctors, lawyers and community organizers learned our first lessons about appreciating our neighborhoods, historically Black colleges and universities, the struggle against apartheid and African American art from Dr. Cosby’s televised imagination. It was fun to emulate our favorite scenes and characters and reflect on how we were inspired by them.
Once I began teaching undergraduates, I learned there was a different kind of theme party happening on college campuses throughout the US. At these “Ghetto,” “Fresh off the Boat,” and “South of the Border” style get-togethers, some young people emulate white supremacist caricatures of the history and culture of Black, Asian and Latino communities. The student leadership of the fraternities and sororities that often organize these social events encourage their fellow students to envision themselves as perpetrators of subordination and opponents to communities of color. Many of these events are planned not just for Halloween, but also as counterpoints to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Black History Month and other celebrations of diversity on campus.
I’ve seen first-hand how alienating and dispiriting these incidents are to students from a variety of backgrounds who are concerned about racism. They have been
candid with me that they are pessimistic about overcoming racism (and how it intersects with class, gender, sexuality and citizenship) because their classmates literally revel in its existence. Some students, like Ohio University’s Students Teaching Against Racism in Society (STARS), have organized national campaigns in response to this trend.
It’s not sufficient to discourage these racist parties. Leaders and organizations need to provide constructive alternatives. Everyone, especially youth, deserves to fully understand the liberation traditions that have preceded us and helped make our global society as democratic as it is today. We also deserve to learn how we can participate in these traditions to build a more just world in our own lifetime. Interdisciplinary programs such as Black studies, Ethnic Studies and Gay and Lesbian Studies are essential to providing these kinds of educational opportunities on college and university campuses.
We’ve continued to throw Black studies Halloween parties, most recently in 2011 with Progressive Pupil’s All Things The Wiz fundraiser. If you’d like to provide a space for inspiration and celebration on your campus or in your community, you can easily have your own Black studies Halloween.
- Choose a theme related to your favorite Black studies related film, actor or musician. We’ve had great success with All Things Coming to America and All Things Prince.
- Invite people! Let your guests know they are free to use their imagination and come with a simple or elaborate costumes related to the theme. You’ll be amazed by what people come up with.
- Make a playlist related to your theme.
- Have a costume contest. Form a Soul Train line and encourage everyone in costume to take a turn dancing in the center. Give inexpensive prizes to everyone.
- Pass the hat for an organization that is addressing racism. For example, FIERCE, Project Vote or Progressive Pupil.
Don’t forget to send us photos of your Black Studies Halloween event. We’ll tweet them and share them on our Facebook page.
Yours in solidarity,