Organizing and attending parties is one of the main ways people socialize at any college. It’s how we bond with friends, meet new people, and strengthen our sense of community on campus. But when we are partying and simultaneously making fun of a certain demographic we do not identify with, it becomes classism, racism, and ethnocentrism, and it’s not cool.
Over the past couple of months, we have seen and heard about theme parties on and off-campus that make fun of and misrepresent certain marginalized groups of people. On more than one occasion there have been social gatherings involving a “white trash” theme. We understand that the intentions of a “white trash” theme party are not meant to be offensive. Dressing up in clothes we don’t typically wear is fun because it’s exciting to do something different. Plus, when planning outfits together it creates camaraderie and a chance for new friendships to be made.
We don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade. We too have participated in theme parties that may have misrepresented and mocked groups of marginalized people in the past. All we want to do is start a conversation. Let’s take a minute to really think about the implications of parties that clearly mock people who have been subject to generational poverty and degradation in America. What is being said when predominantly middle to upper class students wear jorts, trucker hats, and wife-beaters? What does “white trash” even mean? Who is “white trash”? And more importantly, why do we think it’s funny to dress up like “white trash”?
For the most part, “white trash” is not a term we would use to label Bates students. And for the most part, we think we can all agree it’s a term that labels a group of people struggling to overcome poverty who are probably unable to attend academic institutions like Bates. Do we need to remind you of our through-the-roof tuition?
By dressing up in costumes portraying this specific demographic of marginalized Americans, we are perpetuating widespread stereotypes of poor, uneducated whites. These stereotypes further alienate poor whites from middle-class whites. In doing so we are creating distinct class identities, rather than one unified American national identity. The term “white trash,” like all the costumes that go along with it, separates a population who physically, emotionally, or economically fail to measure up to standards of the middle class. When middle to upper-class students, which is predominantly what the Bates student body is comprised of, dress up as “white trash,” we are distinguishing ourselves and proudly saying “we are not ‘white trash.’” When we dress up in these costumes, we are having fun at the expense of the people we are ridiculing; we are taking pleasure in thinking we’re superior to poor working class whites.
As Bates students, we have a responsibility to carry out the Bates mission to “engage the transformative power of our differences, cultivating intellectual discovery and informed civic action.” By organizing “white trash” parties and furthering these misrepresentations, we aren’t cultivating civic action–we’re destroying it.
As students attending a progressive liberal arts college, we need to embrace and respect the differences of all human beings. Instead of dressing up as marginalized groups of people for fun, we need to question our actions and the ways in which we are partying. We aren’t saying we should stop having theme parties. Theme parties are great. But there are countless themes that don’t make fun of other people’s circumstances. Let’s think about themes for social gatherings that don’t isolate and make fun of marginalized groups of people. Let’s have these conversations and talk about how we can promote the understanding of all different races, religions, ethnicities, and socio-economic classes.