Monday, March 11, 2019

UCLA Yearbooks

Go to p. 47*
Blackface and other racist displays appeared in past UCLA Greek life yearbook pages

Abhisheky Shetty, March 7, 2019, Daily Bruin

Yearbooks have been getting a bad rap recently.

It started last month with the resurfacing of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo, his page featuring a photo of a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Then there was Virginia State Senate majority leader Tommy Norment’s yearbook, which contained a number of racist images and slurs that he had edited. And then there was Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves’ yearbook, where members of his fraternity could be seen in blackface. The most awful example to emerge in February was a UNC yearbook page from 1979, which had an image of fraternity members dressed in KKK robes pretending to lynch another member in blackface.

A common feature of these yearbooks was that they came from institutions in the South. Yet, for all the speculation that racist yearbook photos were a feature of colleges in the South, UCLA’s yearbooks show that this phenomenon wasn’t geographically confined. And in the nearly 50 yearbooks from between 1950 and 2000 archived online, racist photos like those of individuals in blackface were relatively rare but still in existence.

UCLA’s yearbook, which was known as Southern Campus between 1920 and 1982, and Bruin Life from 1983 onward, is a mostly student-run outlet. As such, students generally chose the images that went into it. Most of the yearbook was devoted to cataloguing the past year’s events and portrait photos of graduating students. However, Greek life organizations – sororities and fraternities – were given their own pages and the opportunity to share photos of their years, and they chose to share of their most private and personal moments.

For example, a photo from 1951 shows number of people smiling in costumes, with at least one in blackface. A party from a year later has a sorority member wearing a blackface mask. In 1956, Theta Xi members held a coffin draped in a Confederate flag – an interesting choice considering that California has no direct ties to the Confederacy. The fraternity even decided to reshare the image in the 1984 yearbook.

Minstrelsy-style blackface makes an appearance in 1958, with Phi Kappa Tau members dressed as a quartet in this fashion.

The 1959 yearbook is perhaps the most egregious of the bunch, even for the late ’50s. Beta Theta Phi used its space to run an entire Nazi-themed yearbook spread, complete with members raising their hands in Nazi salutes. Phi Delta Theta shared an image of a costume party where a member wore a white robe with a pointed hood, similar to KKK attire. This, for reference, was at a time when the KKK was rising again and launching opposition against the civil rights movement.

Blackface continued into the next decade of yearbooks. During Homecoming 1959, Phi Gamma Delta created a parade float decorated as a “Tijuana Taxi.” Barefoot members wore blackface with hats in a seeming attempt to represent and mock Mexicans. Southern Campus editors lovingly praised their float-building methods and described it as a “pseudo-Mexican style” float.

Another recurrent theme of blackface usage was members depicting scary, uncivilized-looking dark individuals attacking a fair, innocent damsel. Phi Gamma Delta utilized this trope in its 1960 Mardi Gras celebrations, dressing in “pseudo-native attire.”* Chi Omega made use of it in the 1961 yearbook...

Full story at
* (Go to p. 47.)

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