You’ve probably heard about the massive controversy regarding a proposed piece of Associated Students legislation. A nine-hour Mexican standoff between proponents and opponents was so well-attended that the meeting was forced to relocate to Corwin Pavilion. Adjournment was achieved, mercifully, when the resolution was tabled for another time.
I’m not going to discuss my opinion on the substance of the issue. There are many shouting voices out there better prepared and more invested than mine.
I want, instead, to talk about a name.
When introducing legislation, it is the license of the sponsor to bestow a title to his proposal. This is a terrible shame because no party is more of a partisan than a sponsor, and abuse runs rampant on our campus and in our national government. For those who don’t know, the name of this controversial legislation is “A Resolution to Divest From Companies that Profit From Apartheid.”
Apartheid being, of course, a term derived from Afrikaans and applied to a legal system in South Africa that was operational between 1948 and 1994. Apartheid has become, over the years, a symbol of utter institutional evil and why not? A harsh, Germanic word like that sounds a lot more sinister than Jim Crow.
But in practice, apartheid was not very different from Jim Crow. Its laws were established by a government for its residents to create a system of racial hierarchy. Blacks were not allowed the same education, access to public facilities or right to vote.
But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the same as apartheid, and I don’t think anyone, on any side of the issue, is shortsighted enough to think so. Apartheid was about a government denying a racial group within its country access to basic rights of citizenship, but Arab Palestinians exercise, for the most part, the same rights as many Israeli citizens. Furthermore, Palestinians have their own government led by political parties like Hamas and Fatah that are completely unassociated with Israel. I’m not going to declare this an international dispute, but I will say that it is much closer to that than apartheid was.
Which brings me to the main point of this article: Why use the term apartheid in the name of a bill? It seems like an ugly gesture to me because it makes no acknowledgment that others see the world in a way the author does not. There is no recognition of the issue’s complexity, of the many interests and many perspectives involved. It is only an eager jab at a political establishment the sponsor loathes and a group of supporters the sponsor has demonized.
Unfortunately, this is a problem in state and national governments as well. California infuriated me by passing a law with perhaps the most ridiculously partisan name of all time. Forget the particulars of the “Fair, Accurate, Inclusive, and Respectful Education Act” (or, the F.A.I.R. Education Act) — a law compelling producers of the state’s textbooks to emphasize the contributions of homosexuals. Just recognize the sliminess of giving the law a name that no normal person would want to oppose. Put aside the silliness of making the name an acronym (I’m convinced that simply calling it the Fair Education Act would have done just as well), and just remember that we’re discussing a law with pros and cons that need to be weighed. The democratic process is not about good guys and bad guys; it’s not a college rivalry.
I’m done with the whole damn system. Why not just use arbitrary names like the “Pancake Jamboree Act” or the “Defense of Wax Figurines Act”? The name of a bill is substantively irrelevant but should not be a tool for advocacy.
This recent controversy proves that our school is a part of the democratic process and therefore suffers the same conceits as the macrocosm.
Ben Moss can be found outside of I.V. Market collecting signatures for his proposed act to end biased act names entitled “The Act about Acts.”