“It is our duty to fight for freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains” – Assata Shakur
Every year since 1968, the University of California Students Association has teamed with a different UC campus and the External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Office to host the Student of Color Conference. Although each year the theme of the conference changes, the conference at large is designed to provide a safe space for students of color to strategize statewide and campus-based actions while educating students on relevant issues faced by and within communities of color.
However, these goals are consistently thwarted by anti-blackness and color-blind discourses within caucus and workshop spaces. At this year’s conference, black students felt the need to step away from the conference and organize a set of demands.
Entering the Student of Color Conference (SOCC), black students were not surprised that anti-blackness was present — we expected it.
Black students expected anti-blackness because we understand that the very term “students of color” is rooted in anti-blackness. It allows non-black students of color a proximity to black issues while simultaneously side-stepping their convenient positionalities in a racial hierarchy that places blacks at its foundation.
“Students of color” as a term that feigns solidarity provides non-Black students of color the ecstasy of the revolution without facing the ignorance, dismissal, degradation, exhaustion, and violence of revolutionary work, nor bearing the brunt of its political consequences.
The theme of the 2016 conference at UC Irvine was “Anti-Blackness,” but conference coordinators failed to address the presence of anti-blackness on college campuses. The 2018 SOCC at UC Riverside donned the theme “Education for Liberation.”
The women of color caucus held an open dialogue about topics that were suggested by the women attending. Multiple black women suggested discussion topics that would help address anti-blackness within other communities of color. Even so, questions that were posed in the women of color space lacked an understanding or analysis of the intersection of the black woman’s positionality. In the men of color space, black men were silenced or ignored when discussing the complexities of racial hierarchies among our communities.
Anti-blackness is not a SOCC-specific phenomenon. The UC system as a whole operates a “multiculturalism” that promotes diversity and inclusion in a way that invizibilizes whiteness, and takes credit for and celebrates its anti-discriminatory progressions. This celebration conveniently forgets the activism that pressed and continues to press for such progression.
The UC applauds itself for its statements on anti-discrimination and diversity. Privately, the University has facilitated a steady stream of racism (Kanye western party, UC San Diego Compton Cookout, Asians in the Library), sexism (Piterberg case, account of sexual misconduct in the UC, attack on transgender students and gender-neutral bathrooms at UCLA) and classism (tuition hikes).
It boasts its positive presence in racially underrepresented and low income communities while breeding the next generation of gentrifiers. It claims itself a public institution while granting control to a board representing majority private interests. Most paradoxically, it hires faculty who study race, gender, sexuality and labor and legitimates the knowledge they produce without utilizing said knowledge as a tool of critical reflection or progress. Just as black students were dismissed in their respective caucuses at SOCC, the UC system dismisses these critical scholars precisely because they are critical.
Black students from both the men’s and women’s caucuses discussed their grievances in an impromptu black caucus space, which created the necessary momentum to organize against the anti-blackness present at and fundamental to SOCC and the wider University of California Student Association (UCSA).
The demands created at this gathering were presented to UCSA board members at the SOCC. The following demands are universal. They recognize the 3.6 percent that comprise of many of the social movements that created spaces on this campus and on campuses across the UC. These demands are tangible. These demands are our existence.
The demands can be read below.
To be black in the world is to live in a state of constant emergency. Part of that emergency is the ignorance and inaction from non-black members within the conference and more broadly, the very rules in which the UCSA and the UC functions.
Said inaction is complicity, that complicity is violence, and that violence is the world. Do we want the UC to be a part of this world, one that we know is toxic and oppressive on every level, or are we fighting to build a better one? Do we want to be free or just oppressed more benevolently? Do we want to be free, or to oppress more benevolently?
Reader, we hope you that we as black people are not only striving to free ourselves, but to free you as well as our liberations are bound with one another. We hope you understand the need for unity to counteract the emergency in this broader endeavor of chain-breaking, this project of freedom in which the deconstruction and eradication of anti-blackness is the first and foundational step.
We hope you understand that our grievances are not isolated nor irrational in nature. Most importantly, we hope that you do not let this statement go to waste, that you do not force us to make this statement again.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Compton Cookout occurred at UC Irvine, but the event happened at UC San Diego.