The gun-toting, crack-addicted, black gangster is an image many of us unfortunately have had implanted in our minds, thanks to the mass media. On Friday, May 16, I was walking down Picasso with a friend. I was enrolled at the time in a crime class that focused on the inequities of the criminal justice system, in which there are exceedingly high rates of arrests and incarcerations for minorities, primarily blacks. The entire quarter, I had been sharing much of what I have learned to this particular friend, so in a joking and what I assumed to be blatantly sarcastic manner, I said, “It’s always those black people responsible for the crime.” Unfortunately, as I have a tendency to speak in a rather loud tone of voice, this remark was heard completely out of context by a black woman on a bicycle. In her position, I have no doubt that I too would have misinterpreted the situation. This woman confronted my friend and me. Given the ridiculousness of the situation, I was at a complete loss for words and didn’t know how to explain myself. She asked me, “So what’s wrong with black people?” and then went on to state that the school’s population is only 3 percent black. She then went on to say that she was not able to get into a frat party, presumably because she was black. She also said that she did not feel at all welcome at this school and hoped we were happy with ourselves.
I meant to write this as a formal apology and say that my ill-timed comment was taken out of context, and that I truly never meant to offend anyone or cause emotional grief. I felt terrible after the incident occurred and would have explained myself had I not been in utter disbelief of my situation. However, I have devoted much thought to this encounter and have taken what this woman said to heart. It is true, black students are grossly underrepresented at this school, comprising only 3 percent of the entire student body. However, minority students as a whole make up 38 percent of the entire student population, a percentage not too terrible for a college campus. But the issue still stands – why are blacks so underrepresented at UCSB when they make up approximately 13 percent of California’s population? What’s more, many of us do not realize that many if not all blacks and minorities still encounter more covert forms of discrimination every day. Yes, the days spent at the back of the bus are now only a dim memory in the short-sighted eyes of American history, but the apparent discomfort that minorities feel even in our own UCSB community was finally brought to my attention that Friday.
One comment that this woman made that I found particularly disturbing was that she felt that she was denied entry into a fraternity party because of her skin color. If this is indeed true, the fraternity responsible indeed has much to be penitent for. Although I know deep down that not all fraternity members are bigots, the idea that one, if not more, fraternities exclude entry to parties based on skin color should clearly inspire criticism.
I spent much time contemplating that Friday’s events and felt particularly upset at the fact that in my attempts to point out the ridiculousness of stock character humor, I was mislabeled a racist. I’m sure that in the mind of the woman who believed me to be making a racist comment, I was merely some thoughtless white person. I am in fact one-third Spanish and of the Jewish faith. I too have been made to feel unwelcome in certain situations upon revealing my belief in the Jewish religion, and often gauge the situation to see whether or not to selectively exclude such information. Although I have not experienced racial prejudice due to my white skin color, I have experienced religious discrimination. Discrimination is discrimination. Whether one is labeled a Shylock