Blackface video sparks anger at UCI
A UC Irvine fraternity is trying to distance itself from a member-produced video featuring a man in blackface.
But UCI’s Black Student Union says it’s an example of racial insensitivity that is common on campus.
This month, members of Lambda Theta Delta, a historically Asian-American fraternity, filmed four students lip-syncing to the Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z song “Suit and Tie.”
The fraternity member portraying Jay-Z wears blackface throughout.
OC Weekly first reported on the incident.
The video had been uploaded to the fraternity’s YouTube page, where UCI students pointed out this week there was a second video featuring blackface.
“First of all 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,” said Ainaria Johnson, co-chairwoman of UCI’s Black Student Union.
Johnson alleges members of her organization have had to move dorms after they were repeatedly subjected to racial slurs from other students.
The campus’ student body of more than 27,000 is 2.6% African American, according to a UCI spokesman.
Any incident of racism or insensitivity the administration knows about is investigated, said Thomas Parham, UCI’s vice chancellor for student affairs.
“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’s unclear if the video was made out of ignorance or disregard for black students, Parham said, but he added the university is investigating.
“In either case it’s reprehensible,” he said.
The fraternity has apologized for the “Suit and Tie” video.
It was the work of four members who were ignorant of the racist implications of blackface, according to the fraternity’s president, Darius Obana.
“We understand that there are absolutely no excuses for the content in the video and it was idiotic to have it uploaded on Facebook and YouTube,” he said on his personal Facebook on Wednesday.
He was unaware of the video until it was posted to Lambda Theta Delta’s Facebook page earlier this month, Obana said.
The video was immediately removed, he said, and the four members who made it were reprimanded.
“We did talk to them and consult them and let them know that even though you might think it’s funny, it’s not funny to someone else,” Obana said.
But the video was re-uploaded to the fraternity’s YouTube page where it slowly drew attention until fraternity leaders realized it was still there and pulled it down this week.
“It didn’t cross our minds that the video was still out there,” Obana said.
Members of the Black Student Union, however, pointed out a second Lambda Theta Delta video promoting club rush that briefly shows a student at a Halloween party wearing blackface as part of a costume.
The university was unaware of that video, Parham said.
The videos sparked “walk-ins” from the Black Student Union Wednesday, according to Johnson.
Dozens of attendees shouted “while there is racism, we will not rest” at a Greek-sponsored multicultural event and read a list of grievances against UCI and its Greek chapters.
UCI can go as far as suspending or expelling individuals or organizations if they violate the campus’ standards, although it’s unclear what the outcome will be in this investigation, Parham said.
Other than the original reprimand, there’s been no further action taken against the members who produced or re-uploaded the “Suit and Tie” video, Obana said.
Lambda Theta Delta has also removed the club rush video that included the blackface Halloween costume.
“It was a small snippet of the video,” Obana said. “It really shouldn’t have been in there”
He said he’s been working to personally apologize to groups and individuals on campus who were offended.
“We really are sorry it got to the extent it did,” Obana said Thursday. “Unintentional or not, we know that it was wrong. And we’re just working to move forward and further educate ourselves and be better community members on our campus.”
Members of the Black Student Union plan to meet with campus officials and suggest solutions for what they see as the larger problem, Johnson said.
“As a student — as a black student — I have a right to feel safe and protected on my campus,” she said.