Racism Allegations Tear Open Old Wounds at Penn

By Daniel Denvir
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Apr. 26, 2011

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About 200 students gathered at Penn’s College Green last week to address allegations of racism.

Photo by Daniel Denvir

University of Pennsylvania senior Christopher Abreu, a black man who will graduate cum laude next month, alleges that drunk white students called him a “nigger” last weekend. Abreu described his experience in an op-ed that appeared in the April 19 edition of the student-run Daily Pennsylvanian.

“I was heading home at 2 a.m.,” he wrote, “which meant that students were stumbling out of bars and making their way back home as well.”

He says a drunk student asked, “Where can I get some fried chicken? ... You look like someone who knows where you can get fried chicken.”

Abreu writes that he suggested they “try Wawa if you’re hungry.”

The white student yelled out to his friends, “I’m gonna go get some fried chicken! This nigger just told me where it’s at!”

Minutes before, a separate group of students had spoken to him in mocked, black urban dialect: “Yo son, what up dawg? Wut’s good, a’ight? ... Word, really? Yo, what are you doin’ here? You belong here or what?”

The allegations have reignited an old debate on campus: Is racism a problem at Penn? If so, who is at fault and what should be done about it?

The day after Abreu’s op-ed was published, 200 black students and a smaller number of white, Asian and Latino supporters gathered at the College Green under Ben Franklin’s gaze. Everyone wore black and stood in silence.

Janelle McDermoth, a first-year student planning to major in English, created the event on Facebook.

“I was born in the Northeast Bronx [New York City] to a Jamaican family. In seventh grade, I moved to a predominantly white high school in Westchester County,” she says. “Some people haven’t ever had to deal with people who aren’t like them before.”

Most student onlookers were supportive—but surprised. “I think it’s definitely sometimes kind of an undercurrent,” says Wharton freshman Derek Livermont, adding that bad people are at their worst when drunk. “But it’s not a reflection of the entire population.”

“I guess I just never noticed,” said senior English major Rachael Freedman. “It’s disturbing, but I’m not sure it represents everything that happens at Penn.”

Many comments on the DP ’s website, however, harshly criticized Abreu.

One commenter asked, “How do you know the race of the people that approached you?” And another suggested, “It’s possible these weren’t even Penn students.”

Much of the criticism focused on one sentence Abreu had written: “I cannot in good faith recommend that minorities come to Penn.”

“It’s incredibly unfair the blame the university,” wrote a commenter named kasepiki, “because you feel like you don’t belong, or because you had a run in with some drunk racist students.”

One man suggested that blacks were equally racist. “Then you get to make blanket statements basically implying that every white person at Penn is racist. Am I allowed to be offended by that, or would that be racist? What about the countless times that my girlfriend has been harassed and called things by black men in West Philly while she is there volunteering her valuable time at a welfare center?”

Some commenters pleaded for empathy. “Can we please take some time and focus on the people who are actually in the wrong here? That is to say, the white upenn students who were extremely racist, with one white student actually calling Chris a nigger?”

Abreu says that racism is something he’s dealt with his entire time at Penn, from whispered comments to suggestions that he was admitted because of affirmative action.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 01:14PM

“Wow somewhat agree see it every day @ work and although it's not the majority, it's a major portion involved. It's sad to see people still think we only get where we are because we're minorities and not hard working, educated human beings. But as the saying goes you can't teach an old dog new tricks if that's how they were raised to think and believe minorities are. With that way of thinkin nothin is ever going to change for the better.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 03:10PM

“UPenn kids are usually so kind and considerate. No attitudes there!”

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3. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 06:40PM

“Sad and pathetic and unnecessary that people have to act this way.
Everyone should mind their business and not say anything to provoke anyone! And a little kindness could go a long way for humanity.”

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4. Anonymous said... on Apr 27, 2011 at 08:36PM

“penn kids love the scent of their own shit.”

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5. jj said... on Apr 28, 2011 at 07:16PM

“a blck rep in hburg called a white rep a cracker where was the big story then? didnt jesse jackson come to penn?”

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6. dh said... on Apr 29, 2011 at 01:14AM

“a bunch of privileged ivy leaguers being racist? blows my mind...

Temple all the way. Diversity University”

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7. hellifknow said... on May 2, 2011 at 11:05AM

“I live near Penn and walk on the campus all the time. I haven't had that situation, but I'm not SURPRISED AT ALL. I can just imagine what its like when these entitled elitist kids get a little liquor in them....and its' sad that they will take those same racist feelings out into the world as their celebrated and praised as Penn grads. If Penn wants to do more for it's West Philly neighbors, help more of their children prepare for and afford to go to their University. Yeah, I know. There's Penn Alexander. But look at how the eligibility lines were drawn for that school Very interesting line of demarcation t cuts through the neighborhood.”

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8. PA abroad said... on May 3, 2011 at 07:28PM

“I've been living in the UK for a while, and I've managed to avoid my fellow American classmates (mostlymiddle to upper class white kids), who seem to enjoy a bit of racist banter. After visiting home last month for the first time in several years, I honestly forgot how much racist commentary I used to hear on a daily basis. At Wawa. While waiting in-line at the supermarket. From other white people on the street, who assume I'm "in" on the joke. At a Phillies game. So, drunk shitheads at UPENN spouting racial abuse with impunity? Not a big surprise. It's not just a UPENN problem, it's a much wider cultural disease, with unavoidalbe clinical signs for the foreseaable future. I miss Philadelphia, but I do not miss such despicable shit.”

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9. Jim Russo said... on May 4, 2011 at 07:44AM

“Gee, I was raised on the tenant that the actions of an ignorant few don't represent the "whole." My West Philly days behold a number of such incidents with both black neighborhood residents AND UPenn college students. Strange how such simple logic gets swept aside when a social or political agenda is, perhaps, the real motivation...”

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10. CrystalClear said... on Jun 11, 2011 at 12:44AM

“Look, hellifknow. I did a class at Penn Alexander. All of the 7th grade kids made me feel prideful that America had kids like these on their way to being adults. One day a couple of kids were loud and annoying at one point. But at the end of the period 4 kids,( white and black), came up to apologize for the loose ones. Seeing this kind of racial harmony was head spinning for a man that recalls his days on a racially ice cold Penn campus.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Jun 15, 2011 at 07:11PM

“I spot a really cool kid in this photo - no joke!”

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12. Anonymous said... on Aug 9, 2012 at 07:25PM

“Check and see if he is from Yonkers. If so this guy and his family are deadbeats. I am still after over a year continue getting phone calls from creditors. If not then I apologize.”


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