Students Discuss Internalized Racism and Microaggressions in Workshops

The Student Commission on Racial Equality (SCORE) hosted its 15th annual Facing Race convention on combating racism on Saturday at the Student Resource Building.

With the title, “Fighting Racism Within: Transforming Self-Hate to Self-Love,” this year’s convention focused on issues racial minorities may face when incorporating negative stereotypes about themselves into their identity. Speakers gave presentations and held various workshops covering a wide range of issues — such as racial profiling, divestment and common beauty standards, along with the explanation of theories regarding discrimination based on racial and gender-based stereotypes. This included theories addressing about the following issues: how men and women may be regarded differently in hookup culture, a type of discrimination based on skin color that is called shadism and everyday interactions that are influenced by racism — which are called microaggressions.

Sociology graduate student Steven Osuna opened up the convention with a speech highlighting the idea of overcoming internalized racism in order to fight and prevent all race-based discrimination and stereotypes.

“Today, instead of facing race, we are facing internalized racism,” Osuna said. “Oftentimes, those of us involved in organizing, movement-building and activism, speak about the importance of the struggle; yet, we leave out the element that many of us have in the back of our minds, which is the struggle with our own weaknesses.”

According to Osuna, such weaknesses can include an internalized sense of racism, which he said occurs “when a member of a radicalized group who is oppressed and exploited internalizes the stereotypical, oftentimes fictional, taken-for-granted assumptions, categories, racist language and caricatures of his or her own group, which is then taken as real common sense…”

Second-year sociology major Ann Foster said harmful yet normalized issues such as microaggressions — which are basically subtle racial biases or thoughts and acts of discrimination — can be problematic when not discussed openly.

“Oftentimes, students of color can experience this and don’t feel validated,” Foster said. “People easily dismiss microaggressions because oftentimes they aren’t meant to be hurtful, but they do effect the way people view themselves and can be damaging if taken to heart.”

Osuna said students must believe in the possibilities of love in order to turn self-hate into self-love, and he called on students to take a look at the world around them in doing this.

“We need to de-mystify the social world around us,” Osuna said. “We must break down how the love and urging for whiteness, white supremacy, individualism, capitalism, and other ‘isms’ that harm people and distort our ability to have a self-love that is not individualism, but rather collective.”

In concluding, Osuna told the story of 20th Century Italian socialist thinker Antonio Gramsci, who was imprisoned by the Benito Mussolini fascist regime for his Communist beliefs. Osuna said Gramsci was essentially imprisoned for “his beliefs for a more equitable world,” and he shared a famous quote of Gramsci’s: “Educate yourselves because we need all of your intelligence. Be excited because we need all of your enthusiasm. Organize because we need all of you strength.”

Osuna said these three characteristics — intelligence, enthusiasm and strength — are all needed for people to see their own inclinations to act with racial bias.

“I think for us to combat the internalized racism we face today, those three things are crucial,” Osuna said.

Various other workshops used case studies to emphasize radicalized issues and spark discussion among students, ultimately encouraging them to express their feelings and find solutions.

Belen Verdugo, Iris Yang and Aldo Brambila of the A.S. Student Initiated Recruitment and Retention Committee led a workshop titled “Disarming Microaggressions in Education: Resisting Stereotypes and Redefining One’s Identity,” which shone light on the potentially negative or hurtful interactions that many students face on an everyday basis. To kick off the conversation, presenters read from the Facebook page UCSB Microaggressions, before having students debate related topics — including the pressures to conform to certain stereotypes and the controversy over the ‘Ole the Gaucho’ mascot.

Later, students wrote down microaggressions they’ve experienced on a pieces of paper and placed them in a jar. The papers were then distributed back into the crowed and read aloud so students could discuss ways to counter them.

Black Student Union Secretary Kashira Ayers, a third-year communication and feminist studies double major, concluded the workshop portion by reciting a poem that recites all the trials she has faced as a student of color at UCSB. She challenged the idea of a “post-racial society” and spoke about how racism has become indirect.

“People don’t call you nigger or other racial slurs because racism is now institutionalized and subtle,” Ayers said. “UCSB prides itself on diversity, yet we don’t delve into what diversity really means.”

Ayers spoke about the demands she and the Black Student Union sent to Chancellor Henry Yang earlier this year, which addresses some of the issues black students face on campus. She said Yang was willing to listen to student demands and that many positive changes came out of the negotiations.

“He was pretty receptive of our demands,” Ayers said. “So I reiterate: When you have that feeling that something is wrong, you fix it, and then the discussion that comes after that is ‘Are we doing enough? And how do we push forward?’”

Ayers said there is a need to challenge internalized racism, and he encouraged listeners to become more open and active in expressing their feelings.

“We have to find a way to liberate ourselves, and part of the way is taking the internal and making it external,” Ayers said. “Fighting that self-hate and finding the collective love. We as people need to stop internalizing, but externalizing our oppression. We have a problem — let it be known.”