November 10, 2010

"Firewater Friday" at University of Washington

Racially Charged Party Invitation Becomes Headache for the Dean of UW's School of Public Policy

By Dominic HoldenA student at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs sent an email to the EvansLife listserv on Tuesday inviting everyone to a house party this weekend with a racially charged theme. The party, titled "FIREWATER FRIDAY: the indians take it back," elicited an outcry from students so loud that Dean Sandra Archibald has called a meeting this afternoon to put out the fire.

The event billed itself as a way to "celebrate the holiday with a little sensitivity." The invitation, which was also posted to an online forum, promises a pow wow, drum circle, sweat lodge, a vision quest, and a "march down the trail of tears to ravtav [?] before a new day dawns." But some may have been rubbed wrong by the accompanying photo:
"As a Native American in the Evans School, I would like to point out that the invitation description for this event is in poor taste, disrespectful, and reflects poorly on the Evans School," one of the students wrote. Dozens of emails followed, mostly critical of racist overtones, despite the attempt at humor. "I realize you were going for Southpark/Sarah Silverman style meta-bigotry as a method of exposing prejudice, but your mesage [sic] falls completely flat in it's attempt," another student wrote.

And another adds, "Despite how smart the senders of this invite THINK they are, they have only given us indication that they are at worst insensitive clods and at the very best perpetrators of a crass and sophomoric attempt at satire, which fell flat." The criticisms raged on from more students, including this one: "I can honestly say that I would NEVER find it funny for someone, particularly someone of a different race, to satirize hardships faced by my ethnic/racial group."
Some comments on this posting:Yeah, because all Indians are the same, and they all have pow wows, drum circles, sweat lodges, vision quests, and trails of tears. Right? They all look like that Italian dude from the TV commercial with the tear in his eye about litter, right?

I hope they show the classic "What Makes the Redman Red?" number from Disney's Peter Pan. Maybe this group can host a party on the day after MLK Day. The day could be filled with forced labor, singing spirituals, frying chicken and eating watermelon. Then they can show Disney's "Song of the South."

PS ravtav is the Ravenna Alehouse.
On the other hand:Most Indians I've known could care less about this kind of thing, and those who do care are basically assholes who just happen to also be Indians--and being dicky about being Native American is just one of the many things they're dicks about.

A response like this is an occupational hazard of sending any message out on an academic listserve: there's always some miserable tight-ass out there who's looking to make their mark by being emotionally wounded, since they're too untalented to do it any other way.

Ironically enough, the girl in the picture IS 1/16th Native American, though I don't recall the tribe. It's not Cherokee.
Comment:  The last set of comments are stupid, of course.

The worst case isn't that the perpetrators are "insensitive clods." It's that they're racists.

Based on the information given, I don't see how this qualifies as a satire. Which phrases are the satirical ones? A satire of what, exactly?

No, it's nothing but cloddish insensitivity. "Indians" aren't taking back "Firewater Friday" since no Indians are involved. Drum circles, sweat lodges, and vision quests are spiritual or religious practices that have no relevance to this party.

The "Trail of Tears" line is probably the worst one. It's about like having an Auschwitz-themed beach party. "If the fire doesn't warm you up, we'll toss you in the oven until you're extra crispy!"

For a similar college party, see "Conquistabros and Navajos" at Harvard.


Anonymous said...

This happened a year ago. Why post it now?

Rob said...

Because it just popped onto my radar screen recently. And because it's representative of the parties that still occur.