Widgets Magazine

OPINIONS

Supporting activism: A pre-req to being a racial ally

Four months ago I would have said, albeit naively, that Stanford handled racial issues pretty well. When friends from home were rallying in support of Darren Wilson and angrily proclaiming that “all lives matter,” Stanford students took a different stance and seemed to be consumed with a fiery passion for racial justice. Hundreds of students joined Silicon Shutdown to express their anger over the injustice that people of color face at the hands of American institutions. And, amazingly, our administration seemed to not only understand this anger, but to support it. Since then, however, Stanford students and administration alike have made it overwhelmingly clear that their valuation of students of color is no more than a front, used to promote their carefully tailored anti-bigotry, pro-diversity image.

Over the past few months racial justice activists have been barraged with criticism for their anger over the oppression of people of color. When a group of students decided to block the San Mateo bridge, arguably one of the most peaceful forms of demonstration, to protest the systematic murder of black bodies, their actions were labeled reckless and unproductive. When SOOP petitioned to divest Stanford funds from companies that contribute to human rights violations against people of color in Palestine, they were labeled anti-Semitic. And most recently, when ASSU Senator Malcolm Lizzappi, among others, decided to voice his frustration with the administration’s lack of support for communities of color, students responded by creating a petition to recall him.

If this condemnation of activism isn’t evidence enough of Stanford’s blatant disregard for the interests of students of color, one look at the Stanford Macroaggressions Facebook page makes it overwhelmingly clear. The page’s satirical intentions are evident from the name, which plays off the term microaggression, or unconscious racism, a practice that is harmful to most minorities. By explicitly mocking the actions of racial justice protesters, the concept of white privilege and the oppression of people of color, the page is no more than a blatantly racist forum for people to joke about oppression.

Unfortunately, Stanford’s apathy for racial justice is not restricted to the student body. In a powerfully written email, Stanford administration initially expressed clear support for student anger about racial injustice. But their most recent actions have implied the opposite sentiments. Although on the surface Provost Etchemendy’s statement on campus climate doesn’t seem problematic, read in context Etchemendy is implicitly condemning the action of campus activists. In the latter part of his statement Etchemendy goes on to express a desire for Stanford to elect “open-minded” students to ASSU rather ones “pre-selected to represent a filtered set of beliefs.” Although Etchemendy may deny that these statements target SOCC, his sentiments about the organization are clear.

Although no community at Stanford goes completely uncriticized, the inaccuracy, salience and frequency of these criticisms attest to the depth of racism on campus. The fact is that in the U.S., people of color are systematically persecuted. Black Americans are ten times more likely to be arrested than people of other races who commit the same crime. Despite making up only 64 percent of the population white Americans hold more than 88 percent of the country’s wealth. And, holding all qualifications equal, employers are 50 percent more likely to interview job applicants with “white-sounding” names than those with “African-American sounding” names. If this doesn’t infuriate you, it should. At the very least it should convince you to support those who are attempting to abolish these inequalities.

But rather than encouraging these activists, students are condemning them. Unfortunately, there appears to be a clear threshold about just how angry people of color can be about the injustice that they face. Once their anger starts to inconvenience others, students lash out, labeling their actions as unnecessary, harmful and overzealous. But frankly, being vocal, disruptive and angry are integral to getting noticed and if we truly want to support the advancement of racial justice, we cannot just be superficially committed to the concept.

Thus, the complete lack of support that our campus has displayed for communities of color in the past months is unacceptable. As a white person, there is no way for me to understand the level of racism that people of color face. And consequently, I do not always feel as angered by some injustices that they find infuriating. But I have learned to recognize that because of my privileged perspective there is no way for me to understand the consequences of racial oppression better than people of color do. So regardless of how important I personally feel a given issue is, I unequivocally support the sentiments of people of color on the issue.

Condemning those who are working to fight systems of oppression is only contributing to that oppression. So when confronted with racial activism, rather than labeling it as over-dramatic and annoying, consider that people of color have been fighting systems of oppression since the day they were born. And understand that their anger, no matter how aggressive, no matter how radical and no matter repetitive, is justified. Above all, understand that in order to support racial equality you must support those who are willing to take the necessary steps to achieve it.

Contact Elena Marchetti-Bowick at elenamb ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Elena Marchetti-Bowick

Elena Marchetti-Bowick '17 is a contributor for The Stanford Daily from Syracuse, New York. She is a sophomore majoring in economics with an interest in policy analysis. Her passions include cooking, playing tennis, and sunshine. To contact her, please email her at elenamb 'at' stanford.edu.
  • SOCC is coming
  • Stanford Macroaggressions

    This comment is extremely unintelligent, stupid, and nearing the threshold of what I would qualify as racist. Stanford Macroaggressions would never post something like this. Hope you’re not a student.

  • Video Poster

    The video satirizes what the article conspicuously leaves out: that SOCC activists are fighting for the same causes as the leftist anarchists that are currently destroying the city of Baltimore. SOCC is a political organization, so it’s completely unfair to associate criticism or satire of them with racism. 

  • Brian

    Thank you for writing this great op-ed Elena. “Condemning those who are working to fight systems of oppression is only contributing to that oppression.” Even if it isn’t your favorite way of protesting, it’s insulting to dismiss it out of hand. An ally can pursue their own methods while being open minded about the work of others.

  • human

    Stanford activists think they’re infallible, despite their many mistakes and flaws. This, like many recent opinion pieces in the Daily, reeks of denial moving to anger. Activists will continue to lose support by isolating themselves with ridiculous claims like this one (which amounts to “if you aren’t with us, you’re against us”), until they can accept that it’s their own fault that people aren’t supporting them.

  • tree_alum

    Just because you claim the mantle of fighting oppression doesn’t mean you can do no wrong. You express a form of wildly indiscriminate thinking that is high in energy but lacking in maturity.

  • Buddha

    This is definitely racist and insensitive. Not funny, productive, or relevant. Please remove.

  • Buddha

    I like the article because the author’s commitment to open-mindedness to people of color by virtue of being white is applaudable, and we should all strive to be that open-minded and accepting of others’ perspectives.

    However, the author goes too far in her willingness to endorse anything that is endorsed by anyone of color “So regardless of how important I personally feel a given issue is, I
    unequivocally support the sentiments of people of color on the issue” – that’s scary that as a Stanford student you have basically given up your right to have an different opinion than someone of color on any issue. It’s also scary that not only do you relinquish your critical thinking ability, but that you want others to relinquish that as well. and furthermore that you are so convinced that your lack of critical thinking is a just and righteous way of living in the world that you are comfortable expressing that publicly. I would never admit that my opinions or support is unequivocally dictated by other people, let alone publish an op-ed about it.

    It is also open-minded to recognize the right of people, white or not, to disagree the sentiments of people of color on the issue given their backgrounds and understandings.

    The thing is, following the majority, whether it is a white majority or a people of color majority, simply because it is the majority, is a terrible and thoughtless way to live. “people of color” do not have a unanimous perspective on any issue. So what happens when 5 people of color tell you one thing and 5 tell you another? What do you do? You think for yourself, hopefully.

    “Above all, understand that in order to support racial equality you must
    support those who are willing to take the necessary steps to achieve it.” – not if you disagree with those steps. And the thing is, while the SOCC leadership at Stanford has dictated steps, not everyone agrees with it, and so your follow-the-leader mentality is extremely dangerous because it marginalizes opinions within the communities of color who disagree with their leadership.

    Overall, I applaud the sentiments that we should be more open minded. But I worry that this article advocates for blindly following others regardless of the consequences

  • Buddha

    Sorry a few more things that are kindof ridiculous after reading the article a second time:

    “When a group of students decided to block the San Mateo bridge, arguably one of the most peaceful forms of demonstration,” There were car accidents and people were injured during this protest. There are probably infinitely more peaceful ways to protest. The hyperbole here is ridiculous.

    “SOOP petitioned to divest Stanford funds from companies that contribute
    to human rights violations against people of color in Palestine” – That’s akin to describing the War in Iraq as a war on the “people of color of Iraq” or the Vietnam war as a war on the “people of color in Vietnam.” If you looked at a lineup of Israelis and Palestinians, chances are you wouldn’t be able to tell who was who. Framing it as an issue of color is very misinformed, (but good/disturbing insight if that’s really how people in your community are talking about it)

  • Anon

    To redraw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict around the lines of “people of color” is a dangerous mischaracterization. The lines in this conflict are not racial, but political. Citizens of Israel represent every race from their regions of emigration: Europe, North Africa, Middle East, Ethiopia, etc. The difference between the Palestinian who has Israeli citizenship and the one who does not is just which side of a line they were on when two countries stopped fighting in 1948. That is not a racial separation. That it is a political divide does not mean that there is not injustice, but mis-framing the situation will lead only to misunderstanding.

    The change in tone on campus is the cost of marrying multiple causes together. Some issues, like racial injustice in the United States, have (or at least had) large campus consensus. Others like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, simply do not– especially in the broader Stanford community including alumni and professors whom the administration must also represent. Activists have the right to tie causes together that they feel are the same, but they must also accept the costs of alienating allies who disagree with their new campaigns.

    Summarily dismissing all things “activist” is completely inappropriate. It represents a lack of empathy and concern for interests of fellow students. That said, the attitude of “with us in all things or against us in all things” leaves room for little else. It is unreasonable to demand those who support efforts on one issue for unconditional support on all other causes.

  • Relevant
  • Uhh…

    As I recall, none of the bridge demonstrators actually caused the accidents and injuries. Those were caused by the non-affiliated drivers themselves, some of whom abandoned their own vehicles.

    As for Iraq and Vietnam, I’m pretty sure the Vietnamese and Iraqi are people of color. And I’m pretty sure most of the American (and French for Vietnam’s case) government were not. Although that wasn’t the issue – the issue is that both wars ended up badly for everyone involved. Huge swaths of Vietnam were razed, Cambodia was thrown into turmoil (Khmer Rouge), and ISIS now controls a pretty large chunk of Iraq (which had no WMDs that could actually threaten America).

  • Buddha

    I don’t think we’re in disagreement on either point.

    1. Regardless of the specifics, those accidents would not have happened were it not for the protest. The argument stands that blocking a bridge is not “one of the most peaceful forms of demonstration” By blocking a bridge you block people’s access to medical care, and can cause significant risk to people’s lives.

    2. Agreed both wars were bad for everyone. Both wars involved people of color. But as you said – “that wasn’t the issue” – that’s my point entirely. Skin color was not the motivating factor behind those wars, nor is it the motivating factor in the Israeli Palestinian context. Framing the conflict in that way does a major disservice to all involved.

    let me know if I misunderstood you, but I think we’re on the same page.

  • Nigerian Prince

    Elena,

    Thank you for your letter. I am a Nigerian Prince – Mr. Dr., Your Highness Ayegbini Yakubu. I am a person of color and am working to end all oppression worldwide. I am asking for your unequivocal support for a fund I am raising to end oppression. I am a person of color.

    Would like request of you $5,000 to be wired to my bank account. Your money will go to helping our campaign. One of the peaceful protest activities we are engaging in is blocking access to CAPS for 24 hours on May 15th.

    Not sending the money is tantamount to oppression of all minorities worldwide. So is criticism of our CAPS blockade. I am taking the steps to solve racial inequality, and you must support those who are willing to take the necessary steps. Did I mention I am a person of color?

    Thank you,

    Mr. Dr. Your Highenss Ayegbini Yakubu

  • Elena is fascist

    “The fact is that in the U.S., people of
    color are systematically persecuted.”
    Perhaps you need to look up what systematic
    persecution is…. “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of
    words” (1984).

    “Unfortunately, there appears to be a clear
    threshold about just how angry people of color can be about the injustice that
    they face.”

    Obviously there will be a threshold. Property damage
    and outright violence seems like a pretty good line to me. Perhaps not to you…. “Fascism
    rejects assertions of violence automatically being negative in nature”
    (Wikipedia).

    “So regardless of how important I personally feel
    a given issue is, I unequivocally support the sentiments of people of color on
    the issue.”

    Yet people of color do disagree on these things, it’s racist
    to suppose otherwise and lump them together as some monolithic unit. As it
    stands, you’re not supporting people of color, but the loudest among them. And you’re shirking any personal responsibility in the process…. “Fascist
    parties and movements had the
    desire to create a Volksgemeinschaft in which individual interests would be subordinated to
    the good of the nation.” (Encyclopedia Britannica)

  • m

    Summary: “You’re either with us, or you’re a racist.”