Comedian Steve Martin’s rendition of “King Tut” is triggering social justice warriors at Reed College because they see it as a form of cultural appropriation.
The song, originally performed on "Saturday Night Live," actually criticizes the commercialization and trivialization of Egyptian history and presents a caricature of the Treasures of Tutankhamun traveling exhibit that toured seven United States cities from 1976 to 1979.
However, the context to the SNL skit eludes students who are upset. They are now calling the song a form of “blackface.”
The video and song was brought to students’ attention when it was played in a humanities class at Reed to spur discussion. Students became so worked up over the video, however, that they have demanded the course be made optional until alternative coursework can be created.
The group primarily upset about the video being played in class, Reedies Against Racism, is comparing Martin’s comedic song to the use of the N-word. The Atlantic spoke to members of Reedies Against Racism to get a better idea as to why they are upset about the King Tut song from 1978.
One member of Reedies Against Racism told the Atlantic the song is “like somebody … making a song just littered with the N-word everywhere.” She went on to say that the Egyptian clothing that the backup dancers wear is racist as well. “The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface,” she said.
Reedies Against Racism also released a lengthy list of demands which includes a paid day off for Reed staff to boycott the very college they’re making demands to. Another demand was that the university host “mandatory conferences for building race sensitivity for staff and faculty.” Reedies Against Racism also demanded “the creation of particular scholarships for black students.” Students also want the school to host an “Annual anti-oppression workshop for all students, faculty, staff, and administration.”
According to the Atlantic, Reedies Against Racism commit to political activism on campus like sit-ins to achieve their goals. The protests associated with the group are described as “visually striking” and reportedly included signs that say things like: “We demand space for students of color,” “We cannot be erased,” “F*ck Hum 110,” and “Stop silencing black and brown voices; the rest of society is already standing on their necks.”
Assistant professor Lucía Martínez Valdivia at Reed College, who describes herself as a gay mixed-race woman, wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post where she talked about how she is afraid to host classes talking about sensitive subject matter due to these protests.
“Some colleagues, including people of color, immigrants and those without tenure, found it impossible to work under these conditions. The signs intimidated faculty into silence, just as intended,” wrote Martínez Valdivia.
Reed College has reportedly been attempting to revise their Humanities course to the Reedies Against Racism group’s liking but students stopped showing up to the meetings designed to do so.
“Hum 110… perpetuates white supremacy—by centering ‘whiteness’ as the only required class at Reed,” according to a Reedies Against Racism statement.
Richard Raps is a Florida based journalist who previously worked in grassroots politics.