The most powerful student protest of the year went down yesterday at UC Berkeley. Black students blockaded Sather Gate, standing together against the UC's slide into racial and homophobic hatred.
The blockaders' message can be read about here. The photos of the action are incredibly powerful.
It's critical to note that they are not just condemning the racism expressed by some students at UC San Diego. Furthermore, they are not just connecting it to the hate being directed against glbt persons at UC Davis.
This action is much more important and about a great deal more than the actions of a few noose hangers, spray painters and party-goers. The students who organized the blockade of Sather Gate are showing a vision and leadership that all UC students had better get behind if we're to build an effective movement against racism, patriarchal violence, and the neoliberal privatization of the university —phenomena that are all inextricably bound together.
The wider crisis looms over all. Should we be surprised that during times of harsh economic restructuring —in which many persons, of all races, are losing their jobs, going further into debt, and are being forced to drop out of school, among other hardships— that the racial hatred at the core of our society boils forth in little acts of terrorism that harken back to the days of Jim Crow, the era before Stonewall?
The blackout organizers write:
"Though these incidents seem isolated, they are in fact symptomatic of a deeper issue that plagues the University of California as a whole—a continued marginalization of the Black student body."
This marginalization includes everything from the assault against counter-knowledges and forms knowledge production that confront the white supremacist underpinnings still at the core of the academy and the state and society is serves. I'm talking about radical forms of thought like Ethnic Studies, Black Studies, Feminist Studies, Chican@ Studies, and other subversive epistemological projects that have been enemies of the university's entrenched powers since their founding in the 1960s and 1970s, the last comparable era of student rebellion. As fountains of social movements against racial capitalism, these liberated spaces within the university have forever been under threat. "Ghetto parties" and budget cuts directly attack these spaces and undermine their potentials.
Marginalization of black students involves the more literal ghettoization of black students within campus culture and student life. In spite of all their "diversity" the UC's remain a staunchly white spaces. And hell no, it's not because "the black students segregate themselves."
Rather, this form of marginalization includes the mass exclusion of black youth from the UC (only 3 percent of the institution's student body is African American), as well as the mass incarceration of black youngsters in the prison complex. This is the real and terribly consequential segregation affecting student life - segregation and white privilege in wider economic, spatial, and educational spheres. Thus black spaces such as the BSU and "blackout" actions serve to build black power and remind us all of the wider hyper-segregation and oppression of people of color, wrongs that no degree of corporate-sytle "diversity" will right.
This real segregation issue which marginalizes and brutalizes people of color is an integral part of "the crisis" afflicting the UC's budget, and the state of California as a whole. Was not the "sub-prime" loan crisis facilitated by systematic racism? Has not the wider economic meltdown, with its massive job cuts, disproportionately affected black and brown communities? Are not our black and brown brothers and sisters being sacrificed first, in numbers and grotesque methods far worse than the majority of whites? Is it not white supremacy that causes this? The racial methodology in this period of massive dis-accumulation is undeniable.
While the blackout's organizers are clearly pointing to the systematic racism of our entire society (by way of their standpoint as UC students), I don't see them as claiming to be the sole victims or forwarding a sectarian, "identity politics" analysis. Rather, my response to this action is that it demands of me, by way of revealing deep and repressed racial truths, solidarity. It is calling for solidarity from those of us who are white, those who come from middle and upper-class positions of privilege. White folks need to study up and step up and we owe our black brothers and sisters immensely for escalating the political dialog with this brilliant action.
I'm inspired by what I see up at Berkeley. I see black students refusing to be marginalized by quite literally blockading the University of California's most symbolic entrance. They have flipped the script on California's blockade against them and their brothers and sisters which continues to exclude them from the UC, and to marginalize those who have, in spite of all predation and racial venom, made it inside the gate. They are forwarding a politics that is about solidarity and dignity in the face of racist forces that would tear us apart and defuse our mobilization against neoliberal restructuring of the university.