Seems there's a funky new party mania that is sweeping college campuses across the nation.

The gatherings are such a hoot that proud partygoers have posted highlights of their high jinks all over Facebook.com.

The pictures speak for themselves.

The names of the parties vary - "Bullets and Bubbly," "Pimps and 'Hos" - but the theme is always the same. Gangsta. Black gangsta. Invitees come dressed as their favorite ghetto stereotype, the more outlandish the better.

You know, they stencil on some tattoos, wear a do-rag, sport a grill, even pad their backsides for an exaggerated look. Flash a gang sign or two and guzzle a 40 out of a paper bag for added effect.

And if they really want to get into character? They wear blackface! Oh, the fun.

This year alone, white students at Clemson University, Tarleton State University in Texas, the University of Arizona, and the University of Connecticut School of Law have hosted these kinds of racially offensive get-togethers.

The students apologized only after their peers erupted in outrage. We didn't realize our little soirees would offend, they said. It's just innocent fun. Why, it's a celebration of blackness! Aren't we beyond reading race into everything?

And to think these fun-loving masqueraders at UConn's law school are on the fast track to becoming our future lawyers and judges. No wonder our justice system is a mess.

It's not surprising that few, if any, actual African Americans attended these events. Maybe black students found better ways to commemorate a holiday weekend. Did I mention the parties were held over Martin Luther King's birthday?

All it takes is a read of history, a history loaded with racist stereotype - from mammys to coons - to discern what's insult by mockery and what's flattery by imitation, especially when those party pics don't in any way reflect the lives of the majority of black folks in this country.

Accurate images we seldom see. Distortions? We see those all the time.

Unfortunately, part of what's feeding the ignorance of these so-called enlightened college students - did the ignorance that already was there need further nurturing? - are commercial rap videos, which have become more and more like a modern-day minstrel show.

This regression of rap is troubling even to a true hip-hop head like 37-year-old Byron Hurt, whose new documentary, Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, examines the decline.

The film, which airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on PBS, takes an unflinching look at rap and some of its rampant ills - violence, misogyny and homophobia, not that it invented the model for marketing sex and violence into a multibillion-dollar business.

Rappers simply hype up the ante.

In "Money, Cash, Hoes," hip-hop impresario Jay-Z glorifies, well, you know: "More money more cash more chilling / I know they gonna criticize the hook on this song / Like I give a [expletive] / I'm just a crook on this song."

A cool pose with deadly consequences for so many young black men and, well, perfect fodder for ignorant party planners.

What Hurt's film does best, through interviews with established and aspiring MCs, as well as hip-hop scholars, is challenge his own beliefs on manhood and homophobia and provide a vehicle for self-reflection.

"I can't really listen to hip-hop the same way anymore - the gender and politics in it are just so clear," the Long Island, N.Y., native tells me. "I still listen to it, but if it ain't saying nothing, it ain't about nothing."

Hurt says the blackface parties represent, at the very least, misguided admiration. But he offers that he's probably being generous. His gut belief is that they're a camouflage for racist ridicule.

"On the one hand, black people represent this fantasy to white people," he says. "We are the epitome of what is cool and hip. . . . On the other hand, I think it's deeply problematic that hip-hop culture represents such a reduced notion of black people. There is so much more to black culture, so much more nuance."

Apparently, nobody told the would-be gangstas. It's easy for them to say they meant no harm. They can wash off the blackface and slip seamlessly back into their comfortable lives.

If only it was as easy for the rest of us.

Check out Annette John-Hall's blog

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Contact staff writer Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or ajohnhall@phillynews.com. To read her recent work, go to http://go.philly.com/annette