Kanye West

UCLA Is Investigating a Fraternity's Offensive 'Kanye Western' Theme Party. It Shouldn't.

Were the students mocking black people, or were they mocking Kanye West?

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Set your outrage phasers to stun: a predominantly white fraternity at the University of California-Los Angeles is in trouble for hosting a "Kanye Western" theme party that apparently included students in blackface.

According to The Los Angeles Times:

Students who attended the "Kanye Western" party thrown by the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority Tuesday night wore baggy clothes or dressed like the Kardashians, and some wore blackface, the Daily Bruin reported.

After photographs of the party surfaced on social media, some students said the organizations' actions were racist and mocked black culture, reigniting the social media hashtag #BlackBruinsMatter.

Alicia Frison, a black student union member, told The Times that another student notified her and other members about the party after photographing some female partygoers who were wearing gold and had soot on their faces. Other female partygoers wore large fake butts and were balancing water bottles like Kim Kardashian did in an infamous photo shoot for Paper magazine.

While I can see why black students were offended, it's not clear to me that the partygoers were actually wearing blackface. The people with soot on their face, I gather, were dressed up as miners, or "gold diggers," in reference to the famous Kanye West song. The large fake butts are a clear reference to Kim Kardashian, i.e., Bride of Kanye. Indeed, it doesn't seem like costumed partygoers intended to disparage black people; they intended to disparage one specific black person: Kanye West. Is there something wrong with that? Is it not okay to mock a ridiculous celebrity?

Now, the costumes may have been clumsy and ill-advised—the students probably should have realized they were reminiscent of blackface and would provoke outrage. Hosting a "Kanye Western" theme party was not the brightest idea the brothers of SPE have ever had.

That said, does the university really need to "investigate" the incident?

UCLA said it is investigating the party and talking to students.

"While we do not yet have all the facts, the alleged behavior is inconsistent with good judgment as well as our principles of community," UCLA said in a statement. "We remind students that while they are free to celebrate in ways that draw on popular culture, their specific choices can cause harm and pain to fellow members of their community. Put simply: Just because you can do something, does not mean you should."

As the university begrudgingly acknowledges, UCLA students have every right to host costumed theme parties—even offensive ones—without administrative interference. We don't need an investigation to tell us that college students occasionally make stupid choices.