Recently, students in the Rutgers University English Dept. received an exceedingly crap email, inviting them to a screening of a racist Disney movie, where "Darkeyisms" and "watermillyum" were on offer. Now some students, understandably, would like an apology.
According to an editorial by graduate student Elizabeth Braxton (and her fellow students in a course titled "Race, Ethnicity and Inequality in Education") in the Daily Targum, a white PhD student sent the email to some of her classmates in a course titled "Post-Bellum/Pre-Harlem"
"Race, Ethnicity and Inequality in Education" — specifically, the white ones. She invited "her fellow non-racist racists" to a screening of "Song of the South," a 1946 movie that tells the stories of Br'er Rabbit and the Tar Baby and, according to the NAACP, gives the impression "of an idyllic master-slave relationship." The email added, "If you do come, hooch is most welcome, as are strawhats and other Darkeyisms. I might even buy a watermillyum if I get enough interest." She also noted that guests should be careful whom they brought, because "I might yell racist things at the TV."
Unsurprisingly, when word got out about the email, many students were upset. What's even more disturbing, according to Braxton, is that the email's initial recipients didn't step up to take the sender to task, and the department never issued a formal response. She writes,
This racist email, and the other students' reactions to it - including their silence - have now shaped the learning environment in their classroom, in much the same way as the department's failure to act appropriately has shaped the environment beyond the classroom. A few professors scolded the writer. However, no one in the department publicly acknowledged the racist, discriminatory nature of the email. This was a moment when faculty could have made clear the seriousness with which they regard the critical topics they discuss in the courses they teach. A meaningful and important discussion could have taken place that may have changed or engaged people. Instead, an uncomfortable topic was largely avoided, and the feelings of the student who sent the email were prioritized above the pain of students of color, breeding resentment and misinformation about what was wrong with the email in the first place.
We've reached out to the English Dept. to see if they plan to respond,
but so far we haven't received an answer. Hopefully an official response is forthcoming. The offensive email went out to students in a class about the very problems the email exemplified. Students learning about racial inequalities in education deserve to have racial inequalities in their education — under which category a whites-only screening of a racist film, even if not an official class assignment, indisputably falls — addressed promptly and directly. It might be too late for the former, but the department still has the chance to do the latter.
Update: The Rutgers English Dept. says they actually did respond to the racist email, and has now sent us a copy of their response. They also say that the offensive movie was never actually screened. Students from the class have yet to comment to us on the email or its aftermath.