Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Overt Racism on UCSD's Campus - Fallout from a Culture of Colorblindness

In case you haven't heard, the University of California at San Diego has been the location of some extremely overt racially motivated and hateful events in the last couple of weeks. Although many may say that "it all started when...", that would be in error. A hostile environment has existed for far too long (and this is also likely true in many other places), but the overt and "in-your-face" nature of this has garnered national attention recently.

In "honor" (yeah, right) of Black History Month, a group of students at UCSD hosted a party called the "Compton Cookout". It pretty much denigrated African-American students in a host of horrible ways. In response to protests about the party, a noose was then found hanging in the campus library. The unidentified student who admitted to placing it there apparently said that is wasn't racially motivated (yeah, ok, really?) and then just a few days later a "KKK style hood" was placed on the head of a statue standing outside the library (not racially motivated either, right?)

From my vantage point, this is what happens when colorblindness rules our culture. We act as though racism goes away if we simply don't talk about it. It gives us (white people especially) free reign to claim that nothing we do is about race and that it's all in the past. And, the saddest part about it is that a bunch of people actually believe that b.s. We stay ignorant of our country's history of racism...so we then can claim that our actions have no link to it. Then we blame the very people who have been injured by it for years and act like they are the ones creating the issue.

It's like a wound being taped over so tight that no air or light can help it heal. Our racism has been festering underneath the cover of colorblindness (sometimes unconsciously) for years and it should be no surprise that it erupts full force once the surface is scratched.

It's the reason the witnessing whiteness idea is so important (my bias, of course) because until we can actually recognize the deep history underlying our ideas and actions, we will continue to create and support the development of environments hostile to people of color and underrepresented groups.

Creating a teach-in to talk about "tolerance", which is part of how UCSD responded, is pretty much in line with a colorblind approach. Without naming power and privilege, there is really nothing productive being accomplished.

If you'd like more info about this event, Democracy Now has a clip discussing the recent issues on the UCSD campus. "Following String of Racist Incidents, UC San Diego Students Occupy Chancellor's Office."

And yet, there are moments where I find hope. Just this last week I had the privilege of sitting at a dinner table with a phenomenal young white woman in Tulsa, OK who had just come home for spring break from a university in the midwest. She spoke of a recent outbreak of racism on her campus wherein a bunch of cotton was spread out on the lawn in front of the African American cultural center (if I remember correctly) and she had gone to her campus Town Hall to hear from their Chancellor. The good part is not how this Chancellor handled the situation. In fact, it is just as unhelpful as how UCSD is responding. It's what this young white woman said to her Chancellor that I find encouraging.

As the Chancellor essentially ignored questions from students asking what the administration was going to do in response --- this young woman, a freshman, took the microphone a second time, after her first effort was dismissed, and told her Chancellor in front of all that far more disturbing to her than the cotton balls is the way the administration was handling everything.

It's not just her courage that touches me. In fact, at this point, perhaps that's a minor point. Being a person of color on these campuses apparently takes far more courage. But, it's her ability to perceive that injustice is truly being done that, sadly, appears rare. I applaud her and those around her (big shout out to the YWCA-Tulsa) for helping to create the awarenes that allowed her to stand up and be a witness for racial justice.

There are simply not enough white people standing up against these overt displays of racism and working to root out the underlying causes...yet! For those of us working toward that, let's keep passing on these messages to build community and get the word out re: how much work we really need to do.


  1. Dear Shelly,
    Hello, there, Shelly! Your words in this wonderful blog are right on target as usual, Shelly! I am so encouraged, uplifted, and inspired by you as always as usual, and what you said the young white woman student did and said! I am given such hope here where I live in Iowa City, Iowa from my wonderful white women sisterfriends who offer their friendship, sisterhood, and love to me, and who are my dearest and greatest friends! I experience things here in Iowa City, and as a 48-years-old older, nontraditional student here where I live in Iowa City as a student at The University Of Iowa that are questionable. Like one time when I went to the bookstore on campus to buy my textbooks, the cashier looked at me and said the textbooks are only for students. I told him that I am a student, but I showed my student ID. Then, when I go on campus or to some of my classes, some professors and some TAs, and some of my younger white classmates are puzzled by my presence there, and I know they're wondering what is a middle-aged black/African-American woman doing here? I even had a professor challenge my presence in the class until the professor realized that I am legitimately a student, and I am legitimately in that class back then. However, these unfair incidents were not by all white people at The University Of Iowa, and not by all white people in Iowa City, just by some white people here and there. I love Iowa City, it is a wonderful community, fortunately these experiences are not ones I endure from all white folks here, but it does happen sometimes.

    I am a Women's Studies Major, and getting my certificate in Sexuality Studies. My experience in these disciplines has been marvelous and superb, and the great people there who are white are very progressive and right on target as white antiracist people. They have given me an increased faith, hope, and optimism. I had gone to college when I was younger in the early 1980s, but I had dropped out of college back then, and then transferred to The University Of Iowa when I hit my 40s. I can relate so much to what the students at UC at San Diego, and at other places are enduring and experiencing. Thank-you so, so much for sharing on all of this in your excellent blog, Shelly!

    Thank-you so, so much and so dearly and so kindly for all of the hard and great work that you do, Shelly, as the true sister who you are allying and coalescing with all people of color to end and dismantle racism, white privilege, and racist inequities! You are doing such needed and vital work in such a great way! Thank-you so, so much for working with and helping yourself along with your Radical White Community in developing your Radical White Identity, which helps me to learn from you and the others how to be a true sisterfriend to the white women who are in my life as my dearest friends, and how to understand them better! All of what you most graciously do with such sincerity means so, so much to me, Shelly, as the black/African-American woman who I am! Blessings so, so much to you for always, Shelly!

    Sincerely always,

    Sherry Gordon

  2. Racism begins with our families, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, grandparents, people we admire, respect and love.

    However, as we grow and mature we come to the realization that what we were told by our family when we were children were slanted lies base on their prejudices. We realize that most people are like ourselves and not so different and want the same things, like a home, steady work, a healthcare and schools for our children (if you travel you will see this). We realize that most people are of good hearts and goodwill.

    This reminds me of a parable from the good book where a Levite and Priest come upon a man who fell among thieves and they both individually passed by and didn’t stop to help him.

    Finally a man of another race came by, he got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy and got down with the injured man, administered first aid, and helped the man in need.

    Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his fellow man.

    You see, the Levite and the Priest were afraid, they asked themselves, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”

    But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

    That’s the question before us. The question is not, “If I stop to help our fellow man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help our fellow man, what will happen to him or her?” That’s the question.

    This current climate of blaming, mocking or demeaning others for our own short comings, is not new, we have had this before and we have conquered it. Remember “Evil flourishes when good men (and women) do nothing”. Raise your voices with those of us who believe we are equal and we can win this battle again.

    God bless all my brothers and sister that stood side by side with our brothers and sisters in need, when you saw a wrong you tried to correct it, you may argue the methods but not the reasons. I know God will not discriminate by country of origin, our sex, our orientation, color of our skin, or our religion as men do.


  3. Hello, there! I meant to also say more on how I am so impressed with the young white woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma who so valiantly and courageously stood up to the powers that be and was an advocate and ally for racial justice, and to dismantle and end racism, racist inequities, and white privilege! I am so very proud of this freshman! I, too, applaud her, and the YWCA-Tulsa! I think that not only it is important to applaud all people of color who bravely deal with racism and discrimination, but also that everyone should applaud the great courage and heroism of our white antiracist advocates and allies, and that their efforts should be highlighted and applauded even more than they usually receive historically and at present for great diligence, bravery, and heroism!

    Benito, thank-you for your wonderful words of wisdom! I thoroughly enjoyed your post, and I agree with you in a very wholehearted manner!

    Blessings so, so much to you for always, Shelly! You as usual as always are doing such superb, efficient, and productive work with great care and sensitivity, and I applaud you on your steadfast great and valiant heroism!

    Sincerely always,

    Sherry Gordon