It’s squabbling season in Exeter this week, as the university’s legendary Safer Sex Ball approaches.
Officially it’s about handing out condoms and raising money for charity, but the real draw is that everyone goes in their underwear. Every year the killjoys complain the ball promotes promiscuity, but they are normally silenced by hordes of randy students scrambling for a ticket.
This time there’s a further gripe, because the organisers plumped for a “Tribal” theme. It’s racist, say critics. A Facebook page with 207 fans calls on them to “change the theme, publicly apologise”, and best of all, “go through mandatory Privilege Awareness Training.” The campaign appears to be led by Sarah Ali, a one-time scholar of “Critical Race Theory, Postcolonialism, and Feminism”. According to her Facebook page, she is an “Anti-Racist Feminist Womynist.”
It’s the classic university culture clash, but it comes down to more than the much-maligned apathy of the 21st-century student. Most of Exeter just can’t understand the problem, because they don’t care about race any more.
Their parents and older siblings who apologised for the Empire and freed Mandela would probably be horrified by the theme. But the right-on sensitivities of the 1980s Junior Common Room are completely alien to these lacrosse girls and their Jack Wills-clad boyfriends. It would simply not occur to them that their antics had any political significance at all, let alone racist connotations.
Do they think their “tribal” outfits are an insult to descendants of the Chinapa and the Andaman? For a generation born after Apartheid ended, it’s not even a question worth asking. They have nothing in common with monkey chanters at football matches, and it’s cheap of the sensitivity posse to make them feel guilty for being white and middle-class.
In fact, such is the mirth prompted by the Safer Sex Ball’s critics that there have been four layers of counter-protest on Facebook, leaving us with the deliciously meta “Campaign against the campaign against the campaign against the campaign against the Safer Sex Ball theme”.
If any attention-seekers do turn up covered in black paint, the derision they will face will only vindicate the organisers’ stance. Racism awareness has run out of steam at universities, but that is a good thing. Let them wear their leopard-print thongs and feathered codpieces – this isn’t a problem any more.
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