At Texas A&M, slave video reflects broader racial tensions

A homemade video recently posted on the video sharing site YouTube presented a master and slave scene with a man in blackface being beaten for not following commands.

The video was made by three white students from Texas A&M University in College Station.

Titled “The Adventures of Jeraboem” and two minutes long, the video begins with a white student alone in a dorm room, his head and arms covered in black shoe polish.

The white master comes into the room and calls the other man “boy,” and the scene continues with a beating and simulated sexual abuse with a banana.

The three who made the video were easily identified, and Vice President of Student Affairs Dean Bresciani said that his staff has spoken with the offenders.

Current university president Robert Gates, recently named by President Bush as Donald Rumsfeld’s replacement as Secretary of Defense, wrote “An Open Letter to the Aggie Family” on Nov. 7.

In it, he said that the video “is not simply an example of poor judgment and insensitivity” but that “it appears to have been purposefully produced to insult and demean.”

Gates called the video “inexcusable,” “moronic,” and “offensive on many levels.”

Many students first heard about the video from an article in The Battalion, the Texas A&M campus newspaper, said Jason Rathweg, who is studying epidemiology and biostatics for a Master’s of Science in Public Health.

Rathweg said that people made comments about it in class, and that after hearing what people were saying, he had no interest in watching such things.

“Most people were pretty upset about it, especially minorities and people who had actually watched the video,” Rathweg said.

He said that they had a few open group seminars where people could meet and talk about the issue but i didnt attend any of them.

Of the 33,400 undergraduate students at Texas A&M, fewer than 800 are African American. There are just over 3,000 Hispanic students.

Some students feel that the reason A&M’s student body contains such a small percentage of minorities is because of the general idea of what ‘Aggies’ are.

“People generally picture a fairly southern, “pro Texas” white boy when they think Aggie,” Rathweg said. “It has kind of a good old southern boy persona about it and I don’t think that is the first environment minorities pick as a place to go.”

Other Texas schools, including Baylor University in Waco and the University of Texas at Austin, are dominated by a large majority of Caucasian students, said Garrett Golding, a 2006 Baylor graduate with a degree in Political Science.

“Many of the white students at these predominantly white schools come from areas which have low minority populations, and have grown up in somewhat segregated suburbs,” said Golding.

He said that many college students have grown up being surrounded by people of the same race, and while they are not prejudiced against others, they tend to associate themselves with people who are similar.

“The root problem is that many people have grown up not fully knowing how to interact with other groups,” Golding said.

There was another race-related event at Texas A&M in 2003 which caused controversy, when the Texas A&M chapter of Young Conservatives of America held an affirmative action bake sale.

The prices for the baked goods were based on race. Items were $1 for Asian students, 75 cents for whites, 25 cents for Hispanics, and 10 cents for African Americans.

The sale was not intended to raise money but to increase awareness about affirmative action, paralleling the costs with the advantages given to particular races by affirmative action.

The organizers said that Asians paid the most because they were put at the greatest disadvantage by affirmative action, while it helps African Americans the most, thus why they had the advantage of making purchases for only a dime.

Multicultural organizations such as the Committee for the Awareness of Mexican American Culture as well as the Texas Aggie Democrats counter-protested the Young Conservatives’ bake sale by setting up information tables and giving away free baked goods to all.

There have been affirmative action bake sales at many other schools, including the University of Texas at Austin, Northwestern University, University of Michigan, and New York University. The first took place at UCLA, also in 2003.

The name of the slave in the video, Jeraboem, may come from the name Jeroboam, who succeeded Solomon as the King of Israel in 931 BC. The word Jeroboam is used today to refer to a champagne bottle size, containing three liters.

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