Lewis: The "Racist Olympics"

    Northwestern Family,

    On April 21, I saw something I was not supposed to see. As I was walking down Foster Street to hang out with a friend and do some homework, I heard a foul noise fall on my ears from the sidewalk. As I enter into my friend's apartment I see in the backyard of the neighboring house a game being played by a group of white NU students; I later learned these were the "Beer Olympics," which typically involve teams of kids representing some nation-state, wearing a flag or sports jersey of some sort, playing some silly drinking games.

    But what I saw Saturday afternoon was really just the "Racist Olympics." In this backyard were at least 50 kids dressed up as some particular ethnic group or nationality. There were 6 teams: Canada, Ireland, Bangladesh, South Africa, Uganda, and Navajo Nation. All teams but Canada and Ireland signified via horribly racist and offensive mock-ups of these cultures. The noise I had heard came from the "Navajo Nation," although almost every student in this yard participated in the "Indian call." Moreover, these students are dressed up in headdresses, leather vests and other stereotypical indigenous garb.

    Uganda was represented by students wearing tribalized Kony 2012 shirts. Students representing South Africa seemed to take a much simpler approach. In my presence, a passerby asked why the group chose to wear white t-shirts and black jeans. The response: "We're South Africa! White on top, black on bottom!" Finally, the Bangladesh group simply dressed themselves in beads and painted red dots on their foreheads (the overwhelming majority of the population in Bangladesh aren't Hindu, but Muslim). These chants, the minstrelsy aimed at the expense of the dignity of non-Europeans and the sheer ecstasy of the partiers was sickening and traumatizing.

    The party could be viewed from the street, and the Indian calls could be heard down the block. This cannot continue. It will not. The students have written a statement, which you will find in full below:

    On April 21st our organization held an event during which actions of the people participating were entirely inappropriate and racially and culturally insensitive. We regret that these actions occurred and are carefully reassessing the values of our organization as we attempt to move forward from this inappropriate display. We met with multiple campus leaders on the 22nd to discuss the incident and how it could be used to motivate and educate the Northwestern community. Our discussion with them and our reflection upon the events that occurred have made it clear that inappropriate displays such as those on April 21st can happen far too easily with little to no resistance from those involved, and without regard for the offensiveness of the actions. The Northwestern community needs to take a lesson from this horribly inappropriate event. To facilitate this, our members plan to actively support campus change in the future and move forward from this in a positive direction.

    President & Events Chair

    This is a brutal incident that has imposed upon the various Black and Brown communities on campus. This was an act of violence. Violence directed toward the dignity and histories of students, their families and their entire cultures. This is yet another addition to the list of racial harassment cases that are symptomatic of and fostered by the cultural, educational and socioeconomic environment this administration has allowed to exist, develop and, unfortunately, grow.

    I am writing this to implicate students who did not know any better, because honestly we've tried that, and it just seems that there are way too many to investigate! When will the University take the responsibility to educate its ignorant and misinformed students? When will the university release the Diversity Report, which analyzes in detail the state of diversity, in full and unedited, to the public? Incidents like these terrorize students. This is an opportunity for the administration to take swift, decisive, positive action and back up the long-made promises to cultivate an environment that defends the humanity of all its students (who, mind you, are also customers).

    Kellyn Lewis

    Note: An original version of this letter used the term Hindi instead of Hindu. The statement has been corrected.


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