Gates' Unfinished Business: Racism at Texas A&M

A Texas A&M student appears in blackface in a racist video posted on a public website. (Photo courtesy
A Texas A&M student appears in blackface in a racist video posted on a public website. (Photo courtesy

by Vic Walter, ABC News

At the same moment, Pres. Bush was introducing Texas A&M Pres. Robert Gates as his nominee for Secretary of Defense, hundreds of students at the university were protesting a videotape featuring a white student wearing black shoe polish on his face, acting as a slave.

It is an example, some professors say, of the unfinished business Gates will leave behind at Texas A&M: ending racial hostility on campus.

"It is institutional and has permeated the university for a long time," says Zulema Valdez, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M.

Just before leaving for Washington, Gates condemned the blackface video as "so utterly disgusting that, regardless of race, religion, or background, I believe virtually any member of our Aggie family would be outraged and ashamed if they viewed it."

Sociology professor Rogelio Saenz says while Gates has done more than his predecessors in addressing the issue of racism on campus, "there have only been surface changes where deeper changes need to be made in this structural and cultural problem."

The student-produced video came to the university's attention on Monday, according to university officials. Sherylon Carroll, a university spokesperson, said she could not answer questions about whether any students had been disciplined, citing privacy laws. It is not known when the tape was originally produced.

On the tape, the white student in blackface is disciplined by a second white student playing the role of a slave master with a belt.  Professors say the white student is carrying a "12th Man Towel," a symbol of how Texas A&M fans help the football team. In the three-and-a-half minute tape, the student in blackface is put through a mock whipping and sexual assault.

Click here to see a 19-second excerpt.

In a letter to students on Tuesday, Gates wrote, "The hateful video is not simply an example of poor judgment and insensitivity; it appears to have been purposefully produced to insult and demean."

Gates adds, "Texas A&M is doing more than ever to attract, retain and graduate a diverse student body."

A spokesperson for Texas A&M says Gates returned to the campus after his White House appearance in order to further address the racism issue with students and faculty.

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