Every time I think of the “UCSB White Student Union” I get extremely frustrated, and slightly nauseous. It’s a topic that garners many different reactions, the least of which is incredulity, and while many people have dismissed it as just a joke or a troll, I can’t see why that matters.
The Southern Poverty Law Center defines a hate group as “any with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people — particularly when the characteristics being maligned are immutable.” As much as the rhetoric present on their Facebook page resembles that of Stormfront, an online hub of white supremacist ideology, the White Student Union is something else entirely. The metaphor that comes to me is that of a spoiled child at a poor child’s birthday party, who despite the lack of grandeur of the presents the poor child receives is still jealous and stomps its feet yelling “Me too! Me too!” In this case, the rich spoiled child is the White Student Union. The poor child is every black person, Asian, Latino or Latina or “minority” in general who is striving to even the playing field and gut a system that never favors them and in most cases will dismiss them with a glance at a mildly ethnic name on a résumé.
I believe when white people hear us discuss their privilege they are affronted because they take it as a personal attack and feel as though they’re being accused of personally making the lives of people of color harder. This is certainly not the case, and even within the darker-skinned communities there are levels of privilege attached to the curl pattern of your hair and the lightness your hair, skin and eyes. All of these genetic quirks that happen to make you closer to the white standard of beauty give you more leeway in the world that is certainly not geared towards making your life easier. Coming here from a High School in Westchester, New York I really thought I had experienced racism and that being in California, which prides itself on its liberality, would be a breath of fresh air. Ha.
The White Awareness Club at my high school was immediately decried by teachers and students, regardless of their color. It makes sense to me that here, at a school so complacent with its reputation of diversity and inclusivity, there would be a failure to take immediate action to protect its students of color when a group like this arises. In Isla Vista, you don’t always feel comfortable in your color. While the police officers here have shown carelessness towards many different types of people on many occasions (some of it is simply human error, and some I’m sure comes from racial bias) students of color get the short end of the stick: being surrounded by multiple officers where a white student might only be dealt with by one.
In Isla Vista, if your hair isn’t a texture that is familiar to white students, you can be sure somebody will touch it without your permission and even without knowing your name, because the sense of ownership over black bodies is written even in the white subconscious. In Isla Vista, there are more white students with dreadlocks than students of color, and they don’t know the history of their style or the meaning it carries in black religion (which Rastafarianism most certainly is), or how it came about to decry the conformance to white beauty standards: How it was ours and it was beautiful.
To understand my issue with the White Student Union it is necessary to look at a snap shot of the issues students of color here face. When St. Michael’s Church in Isla Vista posted signs in support of the black lives matter movement, they were vandalized repeatedly and the windows were shot through. We didn’t get a timely crime warning. When they had a dinner to show support for students of color who were upset and afraid for their safety, there was no mass email to garner attention and support. In fact, the series of events was really not addressed. And then, on the heels of national protests of the discrimination and sense of otherness minority students on college campuses across the country feel comes our White Student Union.
After an event that showed that at least someone in our community holds anger towards students of color, and after feeling and being marginalized and “other-ized” and just in general being minorities in every sense of the word, the appearance of a group that mocks the aims of the Black Student Union and many other minority groups is shocking and hurtful. Whether it’s a joke about the struggle for equality minority students are engaged in or a genuine belief that what they’re doing is right and they actually face discrimination as white students, it doesn’t matter. It creates an insidious uneasiness all the same.
What exactly are the issues white students face anyway? European studies make up most of our history books and are taught as a matter of course. Students of color don’t learn about many people who look like them in the modern education system and movies with a diverse cast or cast of primarily people of color are called “(insert race here) movies” as opposed to “movies.” People listen to music that came from our cultures sung by white people who make more money and garner more fame than their darker counterparts, and black features are slowly being considered beautiful — but not on black faces. But the White Student Union is mad because … why, again?
The world is the White Student Union, united to make sure that you achieve your place in the world’s hierarchy, which has been handed down to you by your forefathers/our slave masters. If all you do to break that cycle is be aware of your privilege and not use it, you’re doing something. But trying to create a movement for equality in whiteness is harmful to a movement that has been struggling for traction ever since colonialism began. It isn’t about you, White Student Union, because until there’s a list of actual instances of discrimination or systematic inequalities experienced by your members, you’ll remain a bloody thorn in my side, one that reminds me that my struggle, and that of others like me, is far from over.
While WSU’s page stays relatively clear of posting clearly offensive content, the articles they post take a sinister stance. In “Biting the Hand that Holds the Olive Branch,” an article WSU posted from takimag.com, they discuss how white people have been made to feel as though they need to apologize for their whiteness. This is far from the case, but the article gets more sinister as you reach the end. It’s a good note to end on because it’s far from benign. It says, “Nonwhites have a legitimate reason to fear an end of white self-loathing. When white people don’t hate themselves, they end up doing something horrible — like ruling the world,” indicating the supremacist ideology the White Student Union is perpetuating and embodying. Let’s work for equality together and find a productive way to make students on our campus feel safe. If we truly understand or empathize with the issues students of color face, we can begin to address them.