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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.

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