The following is a response to an article that appeared in the Journal & Courier on April 4, 2013. Here is the link to the original article.
The issues brought up by Aria S. Halliday and Bill V. Mullen in the Journal & Courier article on 4/4/2013 attempted to point out the inherent, underlying racism, sexism, and all-around bigotry in the now-famous “This is Engineering” video. In order to disagree with them on some of their major points, racism, sexism, and stereotypes are going to have to come into play in my counterpoint. That much should be understood. I will start by identifying myself as a white, Midwestern, male in his 20’s. If that matters to how my point of view is perceived, then so be it. If my demographic alone mixed with my point of view that this video is “okay”, without hearing my reasons for this stance causes you to automatically assume that I am a proponent of “white supremacy”, as the students who appear in this video are accused of, then I stand by the opinion that you’re the truly racist one here.
My goal is not to persuade you that I’m not racist. I’m not going to tell you about all of my friends of every color of the rainbow, my current black housemate whose parents immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago, or my 2 adopted Chinese cousins. If truths like that help in my persuasion that my opinion in this matter is valid, then I don’t want your approval. Frankly, the fact that some people require a white person to play the “ohh no, I’m not racist, I’ve got a lot of black friends” card before believing that they could possibly be non-biased sickens me. I shouldn’t have to provide proof that I hate non-whites. The burden of proof that I’m racist should fall on the accuser, not the accused.
In the same vein, I won’t pretend to play ignorant and deny that stereotypes exist, are culturally prevalent, and are often utilized, fairly or not, in our culture in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons. The Chapelle’s Show wouldn’t exist if stereotypes didn’t. There’s the old saying that “a stereotype wouldn’t exist unless it’s at least partly true.” I could use the term “frat guy” and it brings about a certain stereotype. Hell, you used the term “frat party” as a term to describe a gathering where “women are ornaments to male pleasure and excess.” The end of the year party in Knoy Hall for the honors fraternity of Technology students looks starkly different than the basement of the Sig Ep house basement during their Heaven and Hell party. I would know, I’ve attended both. But the fact that there are exceptions to this stereotype is what makes it just that: a stereotype. Not all white kids are supremacists, not all South Asians are bookworms. Hell, not all black people like rap.
But to assume that this video is inherently wrong is ridiculous. First off, the song isn’t trying “to shatter the stereotype of engineers as ‘nerds’ or bookworms” as the article suggests. In fact, it does just the opposite. Listen to their lyrics, featuring such lines as “I’m gonna type some code” “playin’ some Halo later, man” “come take a look through my microscope.” Every one of those is a textbook “nerd” stereotype. That’s not to say that every “nerd” does those things or that every person who does them is a “nerd”. They’re merely acknowledging that they’re PROUD to be a part of this stereotype. Throughout the song, they reference Wolfram Alpha, CATIA, and UNIX. For the record, here’s what those 3 look like:
These programs are hardly the type of stuff that the masses would be interested in. All 3 are not just the stuff of a “nerd” stereotype; they’re everyday things in the life of a Purdue engineer. Their love of these things are what make them “loaded someday”, “get an internship”, and “leave a college job fair with some good offers” as intelligent engineers. They’re not trying to shatter the “nerd” stereotype, they’re embracing that it’s the stereotype that’s going to lead to their future successes.
So now that the “shatter the stereotype of engineers as ‘nerds’ or bookworms” is out of the way, onto the elephant in the room. I would like to make one thing abundantly clear before I make any further points regarding racism in this video. This song is a clear parody of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ hit song Thrift Shop. This is a picture of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis:
The #GPP writer in me wants to make smartass comments here, but I want this to be taken seriously, so I’ll make writing style follow suit and simply state the obvious: they’re white. To accuse them of “using an African-American art form… to exclude non-white people” because they, as white males, imitated another white male’s foray into a historically black art form, is ludicrous. That’s like accusing black kids in the early 70’s of being racist against white people for imitating Bill Russell/Wilt Chamberlain’s basketball moves because they were playing in a predominantly-white NBA. Hell, it’d be the same as accusing young blacks today of being racist against white people by imitating Barack Obama, as he’s in a position that was almost exclusively white before him. If they think that any white person that embraces the “African-American art form” of rap is automatically deemed racist, then I would argue that their mission as the Purdue Antiracism Coalition is going in the complete wrong direction. Welcoming other races to share in one’s culture is what will tear down barriers between groups, not expressing anger towards anyone that dares to reach across the boundaries into the other’s art.
The fact that the use of rap by white kids is deemed to be offensive sickens me almost as much as the phrase “the body language and performativity of a black aesthetic” does. To think that there is a distinct black body language is one entirely racist thing in itself, to think that it’s offensive for white kids to emulate it is absolutely despicable. You guys aren’t even allowed to MOVE like we do, because it comes across as you trying to display your white superiority. If that’s their plan to continue the “Purdue Antiracism Coalition”, then I truly fear for its future. That’s a disgusting stance to try and stand behind. Absolutely disgusting.
As for the showing of women in the video. If the behavior of the women in this video is deemed to be offensive by the fairer sex, I honestly don’t know what isn’t. I hope for the sake of Halliday and Mullen that their point on women was included solely to try and broaden the number of people who are “wrongly” represented to strengthen their point that any wrongness exists. The women in the video are apparently being objectified for showing their, and I quote, “arms, legs, derrieres and chest”. Here’s a screenshot of the 3 women in the video doing their “merry gyrating”.
All 3 of them are wearing shoes, long pants, a top, and either a long-sleeved shirt over their top or a jacket. They wear these outfits throughout the video. Their arms are covered past their elbows, which is more than you can say for the men with the rolled up sleeves in the same shot. There is literally not an inch of their legs visible through their pants. I’ve pored over this video frame by frame and THIS is the most that ANY of the 3 girls show their “derriere”:
I watched it nearly a dozen times trying to find a shot that showed their “chest” (again, refraining from my typical #GPP writing style here), and I cannot find a single instance in which these girls even show their cleavage beneath a business-appropriate neckline and underneath at least 2 layers of clothes. Any male who views their presence as “eye candy” has deeper issues. As for their “faceless” appearance? Is this referring to them wearing the same sunglasses that all the men in the video are? They’re no more faceless than their male counterparts are, that’s for sure. Their “merry gyrations”? Yeah, that’s called “dancing”. Not even provocative dancing. There’s no twerking, suggestive motions, or even dropping down low. They’re simply walking with a little bounce in their step and moving their arms over their head to the beat. They’re not being any more sexual or offensive than a girl skipping on a sidewalk is. Hell, that skipping motion appears to be the influence for 99% of their dance moves.
Given all that, I think it’s safe to say that the girl’s specific behavior and outfits is not offensive to women or Purdue. They’re dressed in extremely appropriate attire and do nothing that Purdue wouldn’t deem fully appropriate for their students, or alumni for that matter, to do at a Purdue function representing the school, much less in a student-made video. As for their role in the video, I will happily concede that not a single girl has a single spoken line in the video and that can potentially be viewed as demeaning, if Halliday and Mullen can in turn concede that there are no female lines in the original “Thrift Shop” song that they’re imitating, so their singing would potentially lessen their homage. There could be countless explanations for the girls’ lack of singing, not the least of which being the potential apprehension of the girls themselves to sing, that don’t lead to the conclusion that the males in the video are chauvinistic pigs. I’m not saying that any of those other causes are true, as I don’t know the true reason for their lack of lines any more than Halliday and Mullen do, but I think they’re worth mentioning before accusations are hurled.
Lastly, allow me to address the almost complete omission of minorities from the video. First off, there’s nothing in this video in any way, shape, or form that excludes international students. I would assume that the Purdue Antiracism Coalition would have a better handle on the fact that other countries not only have white citizens, but have white citizens that attend Purdue. Hell, a lot of them even have accents that are surprisingly similar to American ones. There’s no way of knowing the nationality of anyone in that video. Accusing them of being exclusively American students is an assumption rooted in its own false stereotyping. To save them the angry “yeah, well you know what I meant” response: I’m not stupid, I understand that Halliday and Mullen are referencing non-whites.
I’m going to give a controversial statement here that may or may not be deemed offensive. One doesn’t always HAVE to show diversity to avoid belittling minorities. There, I said it. To say that Daniels’ mere presence with 4 white males in front of the Purdue crest “cements in the public’s mind his and Purdue’s administrative priorities” is so ridiculous I can’t even wrap my head around it. Purdue is a school with nearly 40,000 students. We are one of the most diverse schools in the world. As shocking as it sounds, we have white kids that attend the school. A lot of them, in fact. To think that Daniels cannot pose for what amounts to be a glorified picture with 4 white kids in front of a Purdue logo without him appearing to be racist and anti-diversity is insane. If the National Society of Black Engineers at Purdue spearheaded an identical video and approached him to do the exact same shot, would Daniels still be racist by only including black members in the same video clip? If 6 students from different majors approached him but failed to have anyone from Krannert School of Management, should Daniels be chastised for not having a representative from Purdue’s well-respected business program? If they’re all over 6 feet tall, should he make a point to ensure that we have some students in the 5’7”-5’11” height range before allowing the cameras to roll?
If these students approached Daniels for a video idea that they had, asked him to be in it, and Daniels had responded by saying “only if you get a couple of minority kids in the shot too”, I would be offended. These kids came up with an idea. They put in time, effort, and talent into creating a video that became an internet sensation and a marketing tool for the university. For the school’s official stance to be “well let’s make sure we grab a couple of random kids with different skin tones so we look diverse” as opposed to “let’s have the ones who did all the work be the ones that appear in the video”, I would be appalled. If these 4 white kids worked on a semester long engineering project and won a statewide competition for it, they wouldn’t be told to share their cash reward with a Hispanic female, Indian male, and 2 Japanese students just so that it’s not perceived as displaying “white superiority”. How dare anyone try and tell Daniels that he has an obligation to ensure that every single thing he does NEEDS to have the required mix of demographics that accurately represent life in West Lafayette.
The mere omission of diversity does NOT imply that the ones in the video are anti-diversity. Nor is it reasonable to think that the ones that promote the video it are anti-diversity. Sometimes, a small group of white kids just come up with a kickass, inoffensive, unobtrusive idea for a video and the school they attend decides to take part in promoting it. Don’t criticize either party for not stopping and double checking that they had the proper amount of minorities present; they just kept it with the people that had the idea in the first place. They didn’t think about the race, sex, or nationality of their participants when they picked them, and neither should you.