CSU and the university community is one of the most uncultured environments that Isaiah Kelley has ever been in.
This comment, and the slam poetry that Kelley presented Tuesday night, were responses to an editorial cartoon printed in the Collegian on Monday.
Kelley, a sophomore, said that his motivation for the poem came from a bit of anger as well as seeing reoccurring racial stereotypes in the Collegian, such as an editorial titled ‘Don’t Free the Jena Six’ that printed September 27 on the opinion page.
Monday’s editorial cartoon depicted CSU football player Gartrell Johnson, wearing a helmet and his number 5 jersey.
Drawn with dark shades and only white eyes under his helmet, some said the cartoon resembled “blackface” cartoons, drawn during the Vaudeville era as a negative representation of African Americans.
Today, “blackface” cartoons are only used in hate speech – a symbol with which many CSU students aren’t familiar.
“I saw that the stereotype might not be a stereotype that everyone would pick up on,” said Donna Rouner, a CSU professor who teaches multiculturalism in the media. “I understand why people who are knowledgeable on the subject would pick up on this and why people who it is directed toward would pick up on it.”
Rouner, who also teaches a service-learning seminar titled “Diversity in the Media,” said she did not think the intent or publication of the cartoon was a mistake by the Collegian, and that people use certain caricatures to depict other people, but that it was a negative, narrow stereotype.
Many students in her “Diversity in the Media” class did not know why the cartoon would be seen as a stereotype, she said, so it was a learning opportunity.
“These things can be something good because it leads to people’s discussion and that’s how they learn,” she said.
The reactions of the talent show audience were almost all in support of Kelley’s poem, which addressed issues of racial stereotyping not only in the Collegian, but also in the community.
“Racism is something that is a deep-rooted issue in society. And not just black on white and white on black, but someone always has a stereotype,” said Michael Myers, a junior human development and family studies major, who attended the talent show.
But the cartoon is just one example of a larger problem, Kelley said. The university community as a whole must address stereotyping.
Kelley declined to allow the Collegian to print his poetry.
Kelley plans to work with the advocacy offices and the black community at CSU to take action to get their voices heard. He is not quite sure how he will do that but says something should be done.
The slam poet’s remarks sparked debate the day before the controversial N*W*C* performance was brought to campus by the Association to Student Activity and Programming. The group, three UCLA grads who say they’ve turned racial slurs associated with their identities on themselves, hope to stimulate debate about stereotyping on campus.
N*W*C*, short for three racial slurs against African Americans, Hispanic Americans and Chinese Americans, sparked debate among the CSU advocacy groups who have received the group’s name with mixed emotions.
For more on stereotyping on campus and coverage of N*W*C*, see this week’s Verve.
In interest of full disclosure, Collegian Editor in Chief J. David McSwane was instrumental in launching the “Diversity in the Media” service-learning seminar and is currently Dr. Rouner’s teaching assistant.
Staff writer Cece Wildman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org