In a recent issue of the Daily Nexus, a white student arguing against the perceived “institutional persecution” of Greek life at our school claimed that no other demographic at this school faces the same persecution and condemnation as members of Greek life. Any student of color reading that statement must have been upset that, once again, the struggle of non-white students had been thrown under the bus so that white men, who pay thousands of dollars a year in order to live a Greek lifestyle, could claim that they experience institutional oppression. However, the comments made in that article are hardly surprising considering the degree to which white students and faculty at UCSB fail to address issues of racism.
I’m not here to call for the abolishment of Greek life because it represents patriarchal violence and the production of that catch-all word “connections,” which basically translates to “economically privileged social connections that ultimately decide your position in capitalism.” It’s no surprise that 48 percent of Presidents, 42 percent of Senators, 30 percent of Congress members and 40 percent of Supreme Court Justices have been a part of Greek life — this is hardly a group of people that faces “institutional persecution and condemnation.” If Greek life has any negative stigma attached to it, it is because of the very real occurrence of rape that happens at fraternities; this is an issue that our campus has been painfully slow in dealing with. When a woman was attacked by a group of Asian men on the street in 2013, we spent weeks posting flyers and borderline racist police caricatures in an attempt to identify the perpetrators.
However, we know that rape happens on a weekly basis in the fraternities of Isla Vista, yet rarely are the perpetrators’ faces plastered around the school; this is, of course, implying that the perpetrators receive any consequences at all. In Women, Race & Class, Angela Davis describes the way in which white men are allowed to use institutional power to commit sexual assault without the fear of consequences; meanwhile, men of color are culturally situated as the primary aggressors in sexual violence. This dynamic is apparent culturally — think of the popular catcalling video made by a white woman last year that became viral. The men featured in that video were overwhelmingly men of color, despite the fact that all men are responsible for patriarchal violence against women. This dynamic again is reproduced on our campus, where white men (and now up to five percent non-white men #liberalprogress) who can afford membership in fraternities are promised the experience of “fraternity life,” which includes fraternity parties and sexual exploits at those parties. This results in a significant amount of sexual violence, which college administrations nationwide have condoned through inaction. These cases are also kept under wraps by the social pressure exerted on victims by the Greek system to keep quiet or risk becoming a social pariah who caused the closure of a fraternity. This is institutional privilege protecting white men and non-white men who can afford the membership fees.
I’m not saying that all members of fraternities are rapists, and frankly, if that’s what you drew from my previous paragraph, you’re missing the point. I’m saying that the issue of institutionally protected rape at fraternities is a very serious and heavily racialized issue — an issue that the author of the article I’m responding to has not considered when claiming that members of Greek life face the highest level of “institutional persecution and condemnation.”
Sadly, that article is hardly an anomaly when it comes to the way white students and faculty at UCSB handle discussions of race and issues associated with race (colonialism, institutional violence, etc.). I’ll begin with the police presence on campus. The police are a white supremacist institution primarily concerned with protecting the property of the ruling class and producing brown and black bodies for the ever-expanding prison industrial complex. I don’t feel that I need to expand on those statements here, but for anyone interested in the issue, a great place to start is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I have personally experienced police discrimination from UCPD officers, and many students of color have similar stories of being harassed, detained and humiliated while white students were ignored.
Just this year, Andy Sanchez, a student at UCSB, bled to death because of the inaction of Santa Barbara sheriff and fire officials who refused to treat him in a timely manner because of his race. This led to Sanchez’s death, once again highlighting the terror inflicted by police on students of color. No student of color — and especially no black student — can feel safe in Isla Vista while bands of heavily armed white men with a record of racial violence roam our streets. When these issues are brought up to white students and faculty, they fall on deaf ears who claim that there is no racial bias present in the way police deal with students of color. It is an exact reproduction of the national conversation regarding police brutality and white America’s ignorance of the issue. This is what it is like to suffer from “institutional persecution.”
The fact that any white person feels that they have the right to use a word with such a history of violence shows a basic failure of the white conscience.
The social presence of casual racism at our school is also astonishing and widespread. Going to any party in Isla Vista guarantees the sight of many white people shouting the N-word and referring to each other with the N-word while side-eying any black people who enter the party. The fact that any white person feels that they have the right to use a word with such a history of violence shows a basic failure of the white conscience. No person aware of the brutal history and current reality of racial violence in America would dare use that sort of language unless they fundamentally did not see the humanity of black people. The fact that white people using this word is so commonplace and can’t be avoided is another sign that the white student body at this school has failed completely in making this school a safe space for students of color. Racial insensitivity is especially on display during Halloween, Cinco De Mayo and many themed Greek parties. Isla Vista has no shortage of offensive costumes displaying racial stereotypes. White men dressed as “Arab Sheikhs,” completely ignoring the fact that the United States military has murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent Arabs through its indiscriminate bombing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and has continued to use drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan and other regions in the Middle East.
White women dressed in sombreros and ponchos, completely glossing over the continued exploitation of migrant workers in the United States, demonization of and violence towards Mexican immigrants and large-scale economic exploitation of Mexico through the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which has led to a massive influx of immigrants. Yik Yak, a social network used by a massive number of students at this school, is a breeding ground for some of the most virulent and disgusting prejudice I’ve witnessed. I used Yik Yak for several weeks, posting under the username “KarlMarx420” to call out these instances of racism, and I witnessed the sheer magnitude of reactionary hatred present in white students using Yik Yak. These are just some of the examples I have witnessed personally. At no point have I ever seen white students apply social pressure to other white students to stop wearing disgusting and violent Halloween costumes or to stop saying the N-word or to stop any of the other horrible things white people do on a regular basis. This once again shows the backwards racial climate cultivated by white students at UCSB and shows that students of color at UCSB cannot feel safe around the white student body.
I especially have observed the effects of white supremacy in my own field. I’m currently a third-year mechanical engineering major at UCSB, and the largest corporate partners of our engineering program are companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. When I talk to my peers (overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male), these are the companies they are primarily interested in working for. Many professors (overwhelmingly white and overwhelmingly male) do consulting work for these companies and have research that directly deals with weapons manufacturing. As a Middle Eastern student, I am horrified and appalled that this many people are perfectly fine with being complicit in the murder and destruction of millions of lives. These companies are quite literally the driving economic force behind the white supremacist, capitalistic war machine that has ravaged Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and other Third-World nations for years. The weapons manufactured by these companies enforce American power overseas by taking a death toll that numbers in the millions. The fact that not a single professor that I have had has raised an ethical issue with this is disgusting, astonishing and once again shows the sociopathy of the white conscious when it comes to dealing with the pain and suffering of people of color.
Without even touching on our campus’s continued support of Israel, a white supremacist colonialist settler state predicated on the death and destruction of indigenous Palestinians, these examples show the backwards and violent racial climate at UCSB. This racial climate serves to dehumanize and harm students of color and creates an unsafe space for our education. It takes an immense psychological toll knowing that my peers see no ethical implications in assisting in the widespread violence of the American state towards people who look like me. It takes an immense psychological toll walking through campus on a daily basis knowing that the majority of the faces I see are willfully complicit about or actively participate in the institutional oppression I face.
It takes a psychological toll knowing that I could be arrested and brutalized by a police officer for conduct that a white person would be excused for. This is what it is like going to this school as a person of color. The ignorance of the white student body has only fed this unsafe atmosphere, and the column posted by the Daily Nexus last week is indicative of this attitude. White people will go so far to ignore the real oppression faced by people of color that they will claim that members of a white privileged drinking club face institutional oppression before they admit that racism exists on campus.