Look Up: You’re Part of the Problem

Zachary Watson/Guardian

It’s hard to believe the “Compton Cookout” was only two weeks ago today. Two emotionally charged rallies and teach-ins later ­— snowballed by idiot moves from the Koala and an anonymous girl with a rope — racial tensions on campus have reached epic proportions.

When you Google “UCSD” and the first predictive text that comes up is “UCSD noose,” you know you’ve got a problem.

Interestingly enough, if each of the three racist incidents is considered in isolation, it becomes clear that a couple ignorant/unfeeling individuals with too much time on their hands have managed to set our campus up in flames.

Elliot Van Nostrand and his bros copied some Urban Dictionary definitions and tied them to Black History Month — a bad joke that was not theirs to make, of course, but one they somehow had little idea would appall the students it targeted. Koala Editor in Chief Kris Gregorian was undoubtedly more aware of the dagger he was throwing on Student-Run Television, but his clan has a long history of exploiting the right to hate speech, and it was only timing that gave one self-important idealogue this power to do real harm. (In addition, the cardboard scrap reading “Compton lynching” later found in the studio is known to have been written as a joke prompt by a nonstudent standerby. Stupid.) Most recently, the female student who came forward for leaving a noose in Geisel Library claims it was out of clueless negligence; so whether or not she’s just playing dumb, the girl doesn’t seem to be out to get anybody.

Unfortunately, intent does not change the severity of effect — especially when the face ratio of non-black aggressors to the victims of their “joke” (who lack the luxury of finding it funny, or access to anything near as hurtful in the weapon cabinet of history with which to fight back) is 100 to one. Add a followup shitstorm of Internet commentary and gleeful side-picking, and it’s apparent why the “toxic environment” at UCSD has become so slimy.

As we can see, the danger is much larger than this motley crew of fire-starters. There may not be visible protests against the campus-diversifying demands of the Black Student Union, but a thunderous sentiment can be heard across Facebook threads and cafeteria whispers: The 20,000 students not marching in solidarity with the BSU are jumping to the defensive conclusion that black students’ demands are too dramatic, or that this is a simple issue of free speech, and all those hurt by racial comments don’t have the right to not be offended.

No, the malicious gut feeling currently permeating UCSD cannot be blamed on three isolated flareups of ignorance, but on the blank stares they have unveiled and spiteful murmurs they have uncorked. Anyone who still thinks there is no racism at this school, after witnessing the righteous reaction of the general populous to the pain of the targeted few, with no concept of the inequality from birth between races in our country, should indeed be dragged kicking and screaming into the general-education requirements the BSU has proposed.

When a cornerstone of American society like the black population, whose presence at this university means exponentially more than its sparse percentage, feels so threatened as to not be able to enter their own library, it becomes all of our problem.

Let’s prioritize here. Yes, A.S. President Utsav Gupta breached the trust of all student publications on campus — not to mention the content-neutral principles of the First Amendment — by pulling media-org funding in the name of cutting off the Koala. And believe us, he will get what’s coming to him. But it’s important to separate that issue from the social justice the BSU is requesting; they are not asking for anyone else to be silenced, and wouldn’t have that jurisdiction anyway. They are only asking for outreach and retention, so they can exist on campus with the critical strength that would give them a fighting chance to resist — or at least not feel crushed or attacked — when slurs conjuring the violent oppression of their ancestors are thrown around in the name of freedom.

With the exception of a few hundred students willing to trek out in support of the BSU at 8 a.m. — or at least become more educated on the topic — the student body has responded with apathy. The noose was in the library for two days without anybody reporting it. And in many cases, apathy has even grown fangs. How is it necessary to start a group called “UCSD Students Outraged That People Are Outraged About the Compton Cookout” or “UCSD Students Against the Demands of the UCSD BSU”? Just because someone got it together before you to demand what they deserve from the university, you don’t have to degrade one of the most necessary fights in our history — the civil-rights movement, which is not over by any means — by rattling off some uninformed babble about basing treatment on academic merits, not the color of one’s skin. If we existed in isolation of history, if we had all started in wigs with feather pens, there might be less of a need for this moment of solidarity. Just because our ancestors messed up the possibility of self-sustaining social justice doesn’t mean we’re free from the responsibility to recognize their shortcomings and do all we can to right that wrong.

Predictably, Chancellor Marye Anne Fox mostly avoided solid fiscal solutions to the BSU’s bold list of demands in her Friday-afternoon address. But if the amount of drive they have shown so far is any indication, they will not stop until every proposed task force has made at least one step toward strengthening their chances of survival on this campus. It may seem dramatic, but without the most extreme and comprehensive request to stabilize the black population on campus and educate the rest, toxic environments like this will remain possible, and extremists like the Koala will exist as a tool of marginalization instead of ridiculousness.

I know you didn’t personally limit black opportunity in this country, but when you fail to recognize there is a problem, you become a part of it. So instead of wasting your time cutting down a people who have never received anything but the short end of the stick, let’s show a little love and admiration.

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