Conclusions: Four Decades of Racial Ridicule in NOVA and GMU

Linking back to the cultural history of enslavement and emancipation, the unabated displacement of Black homes, and attempts at maintaining segregation in the region, slave sales as fundraisers, blackface performances and targeted racialized hazing created and act as part of a broader culture of racial ridicule in Northern Virginia. Racial ridicule is part of white culture and in Northern Virginia became implicitly understood as part of the regions hegemonic culture of whiteness. Therefore, during the 20th century, as Northern Virginia grew into what it is today, the culture of racial ridicule and exclusion existed throughout its local education systems, trickling down through its high schools in the 1950s and into the new George Mason College.

Over the span of four-plus decades, racial ridicule and racism in the regions high schools and university were normalized and institutionalized. While at times actions by the community surrounding GMC/GMU, local activists, and the state and federal seats of power challenged the structures and actions that normalized racial ridicule, often they were faced with roadblocks. Primarily, a culture that had normalized it protected racial ridicule for so long that the challenges were unable to completely stop it from happening as shown by the reappearances of racialized issues on campus from 1979 to 1991.

Beginning in the post-war epoch and ending in the early 1990s, this research concludes at one of the most important points in Mason’s history. As the school had grown more diverse over the 1980s and 1990s, the Sigma Chi blackface incident – and Dean Bumgarner’s challenge to end racial ridicule, and the subsequent lawsuit ruling in favor of Sigma Chi’s freedom of expression – show that after nearly four decades little had changed since the high school slave sales and slave day at GMU in the 1950s and 1960s. While previous attempts to challenge the culture of racial ridicule, and exclusionary practices in the 1970s had opened the university up to more minority students, the culture of whiteness that inhabited the institutional structure of GMU required more change.

            This research is not comprehensive, however, more study of each of these decades is required to further understand the impacts of racial ridicule, the institutional structures of the university, and the diversity of student opinions and student demographics. Stories of Black and Brown students throughout each of the decades discussed in this research require deeper inspection. Stories of Black student resistance and resistance by all Black and Brown students against the culture of whiteness, racial ridicule, and racism are largely missing from this research, and their inclusion will only bolster and better our understanding of the region and GMU’s history.

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