Panelists Challenge Systemic Racism

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Black Lives Matter representatives Wanjiku Wanyee Muhire, Jocqui Smollet, Jasmine Hill and Cat Brooks held a discussion about race in the United States last Tuesday night for College Nine’s freshmen core class. Photo by Casey Amaral.
Black Lives Matter representatives Wanjiku Wanyee Muhire, Jocqui Smollet, Jasmine Hill and Cat Brooks held a discussion about race in the United States last Tuesday night for College Nine’s freshmen core class. Photo by Casey Amaral.

Timid snaps of solidarity echoed through the College Nine and College Ten Multipurpose Room last Tuesday, but grew louder and stronger with every panelist’s response until the room filled with a powerful unity.

“There is a war being waged on black bodies in this country,” said Cat Brooks, founding member of the Bay Area chapter of Black Lives Matter (BLM). “We’ve got to stop using euphemisms. When we water down the terms, we water down the rage.”

On Tuesday, Brooks joined UC Santa Cruz alumni Wanjiku Wanyee Muhire and Jocqui Smollet — who was an active member of the Afrikan/Black Student Alliance (A/BSA) — and Jasmine Hill — a third-year graduate student in Stanford’s sociology program — for The Black Lives Matter Panel hosted by College Nine and College Ten Provost Flora Lu.

The panel was organized with the intention of being a class discussion on social justice for College Ten core course students. It addressed systemic racism in and out of the UC as it relates to current events and the BLM movement.

Recent events at UCLA demonstrated the recurring nature of insensitive organizing within predominantly white Greek organizations. The UCLA chapters of Sigma Phi Epsilon and Alpha Phi threw a “Kanye Western”-themed party that sparked justified anger amongst the UCLA student body.

Although the chapters have claimed the theme was an attempt to comment on celebrity culture and not race, these insensitive actions spurred 200 students to occupy the UCLA Chancellor’s Office and carry signs reading “our culture is not a costume.”

Hill, an undergraduate UCLA alumna, criticized the fraternity and the recurring lack of cultural sensitivity of the system. She dismissed the suggestion that instead of protesting, a conversation should take place between the chapters and the Black Bruins protesters.

“After violence happens against a community there can be no conversation,” Hill said.

The student response and fraternity party exemplify how the national BLM movement isn’t just necessary in Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, Maryland, but within our own university system. Panelist Muhire encouraged undergraduates to get involved with campus organizations and their communities.

“Definitely start with yourself and your immediate friend group … We forget about the local level,” Muhire said.

The panel also discussed the life of the Freedom Movement which began in the ‘50s and ‘60s and currently pumps through the lifeline of BLM.

“In the same way the Civil Rights Movement didn’t just start when Rosa refused to stand up,” said Brooks, founding member of the Bay Area’s BLM chapter. “[BLM] didn’t just pop up.”

Brooks explained Ferguson was a catalyst for BLM, and asked the audience to maximize the movement.

Toward the end of the panel, the usual shuffling sounds of students getting ready to leave were instantly replaced with enthusiastic applause after Brooks gave her final comment.

She recognized that acknowledging the prevalence of racial inequality also complicates the image of America as the land of the free and home of the brave.

“But, if you really have placed stock value in that idea,” Brooks said in reference to that ideology, “the best and fastest way to get to it is to uphold the truth for black folks and other nationalities of color in this country and work to resist white supremacy. In this country, in a war of many tentacles that are poisoning that value, black lives matter, black resistance matters and black power matters.”