Sunday, September 25, 2011

An open letter to the UC Berkley College Republicans and their misuse of the concept of racism

An Open Letter to the UC Berkley College Republicans,

I just read an article in the on-line version of the San Francisco Chronicle that you will be holding an affirmative action bake sale on Tuesday, Oct. 27 as a way of mocking your fellow students' support of SB185--a bill that would allow the UC system to consider issues of race and ethnicity when considering admissions criteria.

On your Facebook page (listed as "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" you say that

"Our bake sale will be at the same time and location of a phone bank which will be making calls to urge Gov. Brown to sign the bill. The purpose of the event is to offer another view to this policy of considering race in university admissions. The pricing structure of the baked goods is meant to be satirical, while urging students to think more critically about the implications of this policy."

and then you go on to offer the following price list:

White/Caucasian: $2.00
Asian/Asian American: $1.50
Latino/Hispanic: $1.00
Black/African American: .75 cents
Native American: .25 cents

.25 cents off for all Women.

Additionally, on your Facebook Page, you claim that

"The Berkeley College Republicans firmly believe measuring any admit's merit based on race is intrinsically racist."

Racist. . . really???

Do you even KNOW what the concept of "racism" is actually rooted in? Do you actually KNOW the history of the United States--the full and real history of the United States--about what made America so great--what made us a super power? Free labor and cheap labor--which means exploited labor. And for the most part, it was a stratified labor system that targeted people based on (wait for it!) THEIR RACIAL DIFFERENCE FROM THE PEOPLE IN POWER (ie: white folks).

Chattel slaves from Africa were taken and exploited based on the belief of their racial difference (read inferiority). Understanding the history of this exploitation--the systematic belief in one group's inferiority to another. Understanding the workings of hegemony (read some Antonio Gramsci--you're college students and should know how to parse political theory) means that when you use a word like "racist" to describe people who are invested in a system of "racism" you should use this term ACCURATELY. You are, after all college students at one of the finest institutions in the nation. But your mis-use of the word "racist"--as if the word "racist" was synonymous with paying attention to racial difference--as if you actually believe (which you probably do, which is so sad since you are supposed to be among our nation's best and brightest) that there's this level playing field. That all races are equal. That there's no need to have a system in place that recognizes the historic oppression and systematic subordination of groups of people based on skin color/racial difference. That there's no need to try to rectify for this imbalance--to try to correct for centuries of WHITE PRIVILEGE and WHITE SUPREMACY that have kept non-white students from institutions of higher education.

If you want to use the word "racist" correctly, let me re-direct you to your own price listing.

Which is, in my opinion....racist.

The Blogger of Mixed Race America and all people who understand what words actually mean and who understand the basic concept of racism.

[UPDATE: 9/27/11: Since this blog is called "Mixed Race America" I should have originally mentioned that of the many problems and offenses that the price list of the bake sale raises, the exclusion or lack of recognition of multiracial people seems glaring. Also, this is a quote from the president of the UC Berkeley College Republican from CNN's website: "We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point," Lewis wrote in response to upheaval over the bake sale. "It is no more racist than giving an individual an advantage in college admissions based solely on their race (or) gender." (BIG SIGH) Well I'll say this, the kid is getting his 15+ minutes of fame]


Dianne said...

Okay, that made me angry. But I am not surprised. The seeming threat of loss of power and privilege causes some white people to react in racist, insular, and hateful ways. There is no thought that there is plenty to share, just the thought that it will be taken away. But what's really frightening about the direction America seems to be taking, is that the protection of power and privilege will end up benefitting only the few very elite, while the rest of us, Americans of all races including whites, will be forced into a growing underclass. What are we fighting for, really? These students are ignorant by virtue of their sense of entitlement. They've bought into the rhetoric. They've put a price tag on humans, based on racist, supremacist, ethnocentric ideology. Where is humanity? Or are we destined to always find division and divisiveness among us?

eyes.right said...

The expectation of equality in consideration of admission to a state institution regardless of race etc. in the modern age is not a sense of entitlement born from ignorance. Whether knowledge of race in the admissions decision would in fact be used appropriately or not, this basic concern cannot be dismissed. Individuals interested in the abatement of acts born out of primarily racial consideration - holding tenets that such considerations are NOT in fact a measure of one's ability, aptitude, or suitability - cannot support the bill being considered as it does just the opposite.

To acknowledge the validity of this legitimate concern WOULD BE humane.

To make a statement in opposition to political changes which are legitimately perceived to take away the unhindered access of all individuals regardless of race is a form of protest supported by traditional liberal American values for over a century. Not everyone may agree with their viewpoint, but I cannot find them wrong for protesting.

This force in American politics (of protesting for equality of treatment regarless of race) cannot be suddenly deemed "invalid" or "unjustified" because of inequalities due to race etc. that have occured in the past, just the same as such actions could not be justified because of inequalities which may be occurring elsewhere today, or may be planned in the future. Most critically such a line of reasoning promotes separation rather than integration, promotes brinkmanship rather than collusion.

Nor can their arguments be redendered invalid because we do not share the protestors viewpoints on the situation. Remember that it is human to have empathy, and to make the assumption that all white people are privilaged is a stereotype.

We also cannot hold current and future generations subject to retaliation, abatement, and scrutiny for what evils their ancestors may or may not have committed personally. We should not do so based on a status difference (perceived or real) which may or may not have benefitted any one particular person of subject.

To pretend to know (for every human) that certain persons ancestors (be they republican and white for example) were guilty or not guilty of wrongings is being misapplied and is also referred to as stereotyping.

A system which allows raising the status of one race (and necessarily so) at the expense of another race with near instituional application is the very evil which America is continually struggling and should be striving to irradicate in order to form a more perfect governance.

Such institutional racism cannot be allowed to stand in a free society.

SB 185 (as I believe that is what it is referred to in the process) is PERVERSE and must not be signed into law - the bill is clearly misguided when viewed in the interest of promoting equality.

Jennifer said...

I don't have time to respond fully to eyes.right, but I just wanted to say that I think there are many things in your comment I whole-heartedly disagree with and look forward to a civilized dialogue--and I welcome others to chime in--like Dianne. I appreciate your comment Dianne!

Dianne said...

Three things:

1) California is a majority-minority state, meaning that there are more people of color than Caucasian people. If the demographics of the state schools student populations differ from that statistic, the education system in California has failed its citizenry. The playing field is not level.
2) Racism is not a historical evil; it is a current, pervasive, insidious evil. If you think racism no longer exists, live one day in the life of a person of color in the US and your mind will be forever changed. Racism is institutional and systemic in our society. Racism is perpetuated a majority ruling class that experiences entitlement, privilege and power just by virtue of their skin color. That privilege and power is used to exclude and oppress. Though most don’t even recognize or acknowledge the privilege they enjoy daily, they still fight to keep ‘it’ through exclusionary tactics.
3) The Take Back America/Tea Party movement is based on race and privilege. It is in reaction to growing minority populations. What they want to take back is their position of power and their ability to oppress. They not only want to make sure the playing field remains skewed; they want to take the playing field away. What they fail to remember is that every one of us has a history and legacy of immigration to this country from someplace else. The Native Americans were the first to arrive, but they migrated, too. And then the rest of us migrated, voluntarily or by force.

Jennifer said...


I think that Dianne's bottom-most comment is very astute in terms of the 3 points she is making with respect to the demographics of California, the fact that racism is not a thing of the historical past but an institutional force of the present day, and issues of nativism vs. immigration, esp. through the demagoguery of the Tea Party.

What I want to add is a comment you made about white privilege being a stereotype.

I disagree. And what I mean by this is that I don't think that white privilege is something one stereotypes. You are right to bring up the fact that it's more complicated and nuanced, esp. when thinking about issues of intersectionality. A white working-class single mother who is disabled may have white-skin privilege in certain situations, but overall she is not enjoying privilege in terms of her class and able-bodied status or parenting status. And if she is queer (bi-sexual, lesbian, transgendered) and is actively non-Christian (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Sikh) then she is going to be facing other types of othering and lack of privileges, again depending on the situation she finds herself in.

I know it may seem confusing to read that all white people receive white privilege, whether they ask for it or not, but that's a really key factor about privilege--it's not a club you join, it's not benefits you seek out--it's the invisibilty of things you take for granted and think are normal that means you are privileged.

I have class privilege that I walk around with and don't think twice about--there are few places in this country where I don't have public access to simply based on the way I dress and hold myself and my experience being in similar public places and spaces--I can walk into any 4 star hotel and no one is going to look at me funny, so long as I am dressed the correct way--and this is partly based on dress and partly based on the way I carry myself, which is part of the class privilege I hold.

People with white skin privilege, whether they identify as white or not, receive the benefit of the doubt from others who would target people based on race--who would make judgements based on race. And that's really at the heart of the misuse of the concept of racism--because it isn't accurately taking into account the pervasiveness of white privilege.

Dianne said...

For anyone wondering if the phenomenon of social amnesia occurs, just think of any racist incident that has occurred in the past few years and then think about the reactions. People express shock. They say things like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe something like this happened in 2011!” They say that because they have forgotten that it happens all the time, not just when it is publicized in the media. For example, I just wrote in my own blog about an incident we experienced just two weeks ago – a car full of white teens threatening to run us down. We are a middle aged interracial couple. Racism is an electrical current that runs beneath the surface of social interactions at all levels of our society.

Have we forgotten that the US and countries like England were in agreement with Hitler’s philosophy regarding Aryan supremacy and even genocide of the Jews? We fought against Hitler because he threatened to take over the world, not because he hated the Jews. Japanese-Americans, many of whom had generations in America, were placed in containment camps simply because of their racial and ethnic heritage. We were a country that sterilized poor, black and white (though mostly black), and mentally challenged women. We engaged in human testing of STDs on black subjects. This was all government sanctioned and occurred up through the 1970s in some cases. In fact North Carolina has a restitution bill for forced sterilization victims that is being stonewalled in the senate, perhaps waiting for the last few victims to die off.

People died in our country just because they wanted to vote or send their children to a school that offered a better education. That happened just fifty years ago. Yes, we are a country with collective amnesia.

Finally, on the topic of white privilege: I grew up a poor working class interethnic woman. My mother was a war bride from Australia; my father was a first generation Italian-American. I am married to an African-American and live a middle class life with a management job at a multinational corporation. My husband was one of the first black firefighters in the one hundred year history of the Syracuse Fire Dept, and the third black lieutenant. I have seen privilege operate on so many levels and seen how it is given and taken away depending on whether I am alone or with my husband or daughters. It is not a stereotype. It is the foundation our country is built on – first established by forming our first government declarations to benefit white landowners while defining blacks as only three-quarters human. That’s what the conservative fringe wants to go back to. Some don’t even realize that’s what they are fighting for – it’s invisible to them just as privilege is.

Jennifer, I so appreciate this forum for discussion.