by eunice kwon
The Compton Cookout is an ugly reminder that racism, even in its most raw form, is still alive and well today. When people saw members of a UCSD fraternity dressing up as black stereotypes, the general consensus was some degree of shock, discomfort, or disgust. However, while people generally seemed to agree that this party was in poor taste and racially insensitive, there were differing opinions about what actions should be taken, or whether any action should be taken at all.
When I initially discussed the Cookout and the incidents that followed with some of my friends who are students at UCSD and who were invited to this event, I expected us to be on the same page and to be able to commiserate about the hateful and ignorant nature of these incidents. Instead, I was met with head scratches and genuine concern that I had been at Berkeley for far too long.
When the events were brought up in one of my discussion sections here at Cal, I was met with comments ridiculing the list of demands put forth by the Black Student Union of UCSD, and even assertions that we lived in a post-racial society where racism was out-of-date and irrelevant in the context of current events.
When I attended the Blackout protest, I was moved by the strength and courage of the black students who stood arm in arm with cloths tied around their mouths. What I saw was a community coming together to express how they had been silenced by institutions and acts of hate. To me, their silence spoke volumes. To others, they were an inconvenient roadblock that disrupted the flow of their day. I was shocked when I overheard students say things like “They’re so rude for blocking my way to class,” or “They need to stop making such a big deal,” and even “Do they all go here? I didn’t know we had that many black people.”
If you think like this, this single article won’t persuade you to suddenly grow a consciousness. I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who believes that the Compton Cookout and the incidents following are not isolated events, but are natural by-products of a society that lacks consciousness of race. I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who tries to understand the historical and present-day struggle of marginalized peoples. And I’m writing this as an Asian American woman who has experienced the realities of racial and gender inequalities in my everyday life, and who stands in solidarity with my black brothers and sisters when they are mistreated, silenced, underrepresented, and hated for being a person of color.
The list of demands put forth by the UCSD Black Student Union acknowledges how the campus climates across the UC’s create conditions for this type of ignorance to fester. It targets the devaluing of diversity and non-normative education such as Ethnic Studies or LGBT studies, and brings attention to the troubling enrollment rates of black students in California public universities. It acknowledges that these acts are in part a tangible manifestation of policies that undercut the opportunities for students’ eyes to be opened to histories and contexts beyond their own backgrounds.
Proposition 209, the new 2012 admission policy (which is predicted to have devastating effects on the student of color population across the board), decisions made by administrators to cut support for Multicultural Student Development offices, and so forth – all are counter-productive to the necessary task of making our campuses safe for students of color. As students with vested interest in safety, community building, and tolerance, the time to fight against these policies is now.