Laura Vance, PhD
Professor of Sociology and Chair of Women and Gender Studies
For predominantly white, relatively affluent college students to have a campus party at which they dress and act as (their conception of) “thugs” and then, when questioned about this behavior, defend their “Thug Life” party as merely an excuse to “shake our asses” and have some “booty-shaking fun” demonstrates both a failure to recognize dangerous stereotypes and a willingness to perpetuate them.
In her response to other students’ expression of concern regarding the recent “Thug Life” party on campus a student intones “that we all need more levity in our lives,” and asserts “no difference between [a] stereotypical thug and a real life, genuine, whole-hearted thug.” To caricature people according to narrow notions of dress, speech, and behavior is more than offensive. We live in a society that has a long history of racial and other stereotypes, including stereotypes of African Americans as violent, unruly, and overly sexual—particularly with the end of slavery, when these stereotypes were used to justify violence against African Americans, including lynching and rape.
To trivialize discussion about perpetuation of stereotypes as indicating lack of “levity” and to assert that college students acting out their notion of “thugs” is merely all in good fun is to ignore the real and egregious harms advanced in a society in which such stereotypes persist. One in fifteen black adults in the U.S. is incarcerated today, compared to one in ninety-nine adults in the general population (an overall incarceration rate that is itself well above that of any other industrialized democracy).
We might all do well to question our ideas and assumptions about race and to consider on how we may use our privilege to dismantle social injustice.