Racism 101: My Thoughts on the Racist Incidents at U.C. San Diego
When I heard about the recent racist incidents at the University of California, San Diego; the "Compton Cookout" party thrown by the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity that mocked Black History Month, the Ku Klux Klan-style hood that was placed on a campus statue, the noose that was hung in the campus library, and students on Koala TV, UC San Diego's TV station, calling blacks "ungrateful n*****s" during one of their shows, I was not at all surprised.
Considering that incidents like these have happened on campuses across America for roughly 35 years, it wasn't shocking to me.
But it was upsetting.
I was upset not only by these acts, but particularly by the attitudes of the conservative white population toward this issue.
Hanna Guthrie, a student at the University of California's Irvine campus, located in the right-wing stronghold that is Orange County (who's obviously white), penned an letter to her campus' newspaper that voiced perfectly how conservative whites feel about cultural events like Black History Month and dare I say it, African American culture in general.
In a nutshell, Ms. Guthrie feels that ethnic clubs and holidays such as Martin Luther King Day and Cinco De Mayo enable people of color to, as she describes it, "cry eternal victimhood"; that because of the successes of folks like Oprah Winfrey and President Barack Obama, blacks should stop blaming their oppression solely on "the white man" and "take personal responsibility" to solve the problems of their communities and cure their own ills.
It was also fairly obvious by what she wrote that she sees affirmative action as nothing but a ploy to give preferences to unqualified people of color, and that African Americans and other "minorities" should simply forget past wrongs, blame themselves for their sub-par neighborhoods and schools, and as right-wing legend Ronald Reagan so puts it, "pull themselves up by their own bootstraps".
Which I am sure is the view of all conservative Anglo-Caucasians.
As for the acts and subsequent reactions at UC San Diego - like Irvine, also located in a longtime conservative area - I can say one thing for the fraternity, the students at the TV station, and Ms. Guthrie at UC Irvine:
They are honest.
Those young people were showing the resentment of whites who see blacks, Latinos and other underrepresented ethnic groups as crybabies who want everything handed to them because of past sins suffered at the hands of whites in this country. That racial-themed party, the noose, and that n-word remark was only an extreme example of the white backlash that has characterized American racial issues since the 1970s.
In fact, President Obama's election and presidency as triggered an avalanche of conservative Caucasian backlash, including school children chanting "Assassinate Obama" on a bus in Idaho. Incidents like that has made it crystal clear that millions of whites wish that Obama's skin was the same color as theirs.
As far as what went down in San Diego and Irvine, what those acts have told me is that not only does Pi Kappa Alpha, Hanna Guthrie, and the students at that TV Station not understand, they have no desire to understand.
They refuse to understand that just because African Americans can sit at any lunch counter they want to and go to any bathroom they wish, does not mean that racism is a thing of the past; to conservative whites, racism equals "Whites Only" signs in restaurants, sitting on the back of buses, and the KKK burning crosses - which are merely extreme symptoms of racism and not the true definition.
They refuse to understand that it continues to be much more of a challenge for a black or a Latino person to get a job than for a white person to get a job, even among college graduates, the reasoning for this being that white employers often feel more comfortable hiring someone like them, even if the person of color is clearly the better job candidate. According to the New York Times, unemployment among young African American male college graduates are nearly double that of their white counterparts.
A good personal example of this was when I was a undergraduate, I answered an ad to help a girls' softball team one spring.
When I had the initial conversation with the head coach on the phone, it went great; she sounded quite impressed with my experience coaching kids and my knowledge of the game, and I was very much looking forward to working with the team as I hung up the phone.
However, when I arrived at the field that following Saturday the coach that was so impressed and friendly with me gave me a funny look, then informed me that they were going to go with someone else because "he asked first". When she said that, I knew right away that this lady did not want any black guys near her team of little white girls, and was trying to hide her racism (not well) by saying so.
Though I was still a student with my graduation still a few months away, I knew that I had received a master lesson on dealing with white society as a young black adult male.
Getting back to what happened in San Diego and Irvine, these white conservatives also refuse to understand that African Americans still get stopped by the police while in their cars, especially if such cars are nice, far more than whites - the term being "Driving While Black" - and get followed in stores because management and clerks suspect them of being potential thieves.
And they refuse to understand that clubs like the Black Student Union, MECHA (for Latinos), Nisei Student Union (for Japanese students) and Hillel (for Jewish people) exist not to segregate themselves, but to provide support and camaraderie for the folks in those ethnic groups and to celebrate their culture, which in the face of campuses that can be hostile are very much needed.
The kicker to all of this is, I don't expect these conservative white kids, or anyone else who feels like they do, to understand.
And don't expect them to ever be able to.
The reason? Pi Kappa Alpha, Guthrie, and all other middle class-to-upper class Caucasians in America are beneficiaries of white privilege.
They mostly hail from places where there are hardly any black or brown folks - except for workers and maybe a celebrity or two - have almost never interacted on a regular basis with such, and will never know what it's like to be an African American or a Latino and suffer the indignities that racism, whether it's blatant, subtle, or institutional, brings.
They will never know what it's like to live in a neighborhood where wearing the wrong color in the wrong place at the wrong time can mean death, where drugs such as heroin and crack are sold out in the open, or where cigarette / tobacco shops and liquor stores abound on nearly every corner, as opposed to their own neighborhoods.
They will never know what it's like for people to look at them with fear, thinking they are violent thugs and clutching their purses and handbags because they are afraid they might be snatched.
And they will never, ever know what it's like for folks to see them and somehow being inferior beings because of their skin color, their name, and in Latinos' case their language.
I am convinced that if those frat boys at UC San Diego didn't see blacks as inferior, they would not have thrown that "Compton Cookout" party complete with gold teeth, watermelon, and girls acting "ghetto" - the irony being that Latinos have outnumbered African Americans in Compton since the 1990s.
If Guthrie didn't have at least some negative feelings toward blacks, she wouldn't have written the letter that she wrote.
And it goes without saying that if those students at the TV station didn't have any hatred toward African Americans, the n-word would have never been uttered on the air.
At the end of the day, these incidents have proven once and for all that this is not a post-racial society, despite what some think.
All of the civil rights protests, marches, and "I Have A Dream" speeches, the affirmative action policies, and the Oprahs, Obamas, Bill Cosbys and Kobe Bryants of the world will never change how conservative whites feel.
In other words, you cannot force a white individual with right-wing views that are seen by many as racist to stop feeling that way, no matter how many African American presidents these United States may have.
People like Hanna Guthrie and those students at UC San Diego's TV Station will always feel they way they do about race and racial issues; that's just the way it is.
And that's the way I see it.