What’s behind racism today? Fancy-dress parties, apparently…

An Olympics-themed sorority party in New York has been condemned as 'racist'.

A sorority at Columbia University in New York has become the latest internet pariah after pictures circulated online of a few of its members donning supposedly ‘racist’ party costumes.

The students were snapped on their way to an Olympics-themed party where each group were obliged to dress up as a particular nation. The girls of Kappa Alpha Theta posted images of themselves on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram sporting sombreros, moustaches and Mexican-flag t-shirts bearing the slogan ‘Down to Fiesta’.

The story caught fire across Twitter and the blogosphere, prompting condemnation from student officials. The Columbia Chicano Caucus took particular issue with the images: ‘While we understand that the actions taken by these members may not have intended to be harmful, they were in fact offensive’, declared a statement from the Caucus. ‘Stereotypes are used to oppress marginalized communities.’

This outcry over ‘racist’ fancy-dress parties follows similar incidents at fraternities at US universities, including Pennsylvania State, Dartmouth College, California State and Florida State. The offending themes include ‘Bloods vs. Cripps’ in reference to the Los Angeles-based gangs and a ‘Cholo’ Latino-themed party. At Penn State, some students were suspended after images of their own Mexican-themed party circulated online.

These parties may be in poor taste, but the claims being made here, that fancy-dress parties are somehow motoring a widespread culture of discrimination, is a bit of a stretch. What’s more, the campaigns against theme parties propagate the idea that students from ethnic minorities will be reduced to a quivering wreck by the sight of a poncho, rather than just shrugging it off or having it out with the person wearing it.

In truth, what’s really behind the bizarre reaction to these incidents is the hunger among students and posturing Tweeters for an opportunity to vent their spleen and flaunt how terribly un-racist they are. It seems like the champions of equality today would rather shame a few garishly dressed students than properly get to grips with the more complex issues underpinning discrimination.

Charlie Pearson is a spiked intern.

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