Crossing the line

Remember when going to college made you smarter? Not so at some colleges nationwide.

While people of many races celebrated the life and legacy of civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in the days surrounding his birthday last month, some college parties around the country raged with a single disturbing theme: denigrating blacks.

At Tarleton State University in Dallas, revelers sported do-rags and carried bottles of Aunt Jemima brand syrup. University of Connecticut Law School students held a "Bullets & Bubbly" bash, with partygoers sporting malt liquor and fake gold teeth.

But Clemson University students threw perhaps the worst party of all - not only for flogging any number of offensive racial stereotypes, but also for giving the party a sickening title that is a slap in Dr. King's face: "Living the Dream."

More like a nightmare.

Certainly, "gangsta" culture as portrayed in the media - people wearing absurdly baggy pants and sporting a bored indifference toward anything except money, guns, drugs and easy sex - would seem ripe for parody.

Well, it is and it isn't.

It is if you're talking about the cinematic granddaddy of gangsta parody, the 1996 movie Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. It's hardly Academy Award material, but it works for what it does: It pokes fun at the gangsta lifestyle as shown in earlier films such as Boyz N the Hood and Menace II Society.

The reason it works is because Don't Be a Menace was conceived and executed by black entertainers, who are able to successfully defuse controversial aspects of black culture with humor. When people - any people - poke fun at their own backgrounds, it doesn't come off as hateful. That's why Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy can successfully crack redneck jokes to appreciative audiences - the audiences know the men aren't speaking from hate, but a shared experience.

The same can't be said of these shameful college parties.

People choose to walk a thin cultural tightrope these days when they decide to make sweeping generalizations about people of other backgrounds. Beware.

We're not talking about embracing political correctness here. We're talking about exercising common sense, showing some respect.

It's no secret that white youths have long mimicked black youths - in their dress, their language, their music and more. But there's a line between mimicry and mockery, and that line's been crossed.

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