(Reposted from FOBBDeep)
Letter from Dr. Jody Blanco, of UCSD’s Dept of Literature
Dear Filipina and Filipino students, colleagues, and friends:
I hope that you don’t mind my sending a mass email to you, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever done. While I know some, maybe many of you individually, I haven’t been to a KP GBM in many years, and haven’t had the opportunity to work as closely with you as I would have liked and would like to. Hopefully this is something we can begin to address and repair over time.
What has prompted this unusual message is the recent spate of events that have transpired the past week, and have caused or exacerbated the perceived lack of support for many historically underrepresented minorities – not just blacks, but Latinos, Arab- and certain Asian-Americans, Filipinos and Filipino-Americans included. I don’t need to tell you the details, which I’m sure you already know – a private party involving hundreds of UCSD students, framed as an expression of contempt for Black History Month and the free use of hate speech (which, as it turns out, was downloaded from a website); a follow-up televised program on the Koala newspaper website, expressing support for hate speech.
By now, if you’ve been listening to the local and national news, you may also have a sense of the fallout: black students at UCSD threatening to withdraw or transfer out of UCSD en masse; the administration’s simultaneous condemnation of these events and declaration of non-commitment to any further significant actions to be taken in response to the outbreak of hate speech on campus; the intervention of the San Diego city council and California state assembly members committed to take responsibility and hold people accountable (because the university won’t); a public statement made by the NAACP promising to conduct its own investigation into the matter; national coverage of our campus and university on network TV, featuring reporters and analysts who express open disbelief at the campus’s presumed commitment to its principles of community, and bewilderment at the administration’s failure to take any meaningful or effective action defending and protecting its students from injury and insult.
For those of you who have close friends in the black community, you may have witnessed or heard stories of their trauma and insecurity: students weeping in the halls and on Library Walk at their helplessness and inability to represent themselves against the violence of having other people represent them. If you are like me, you are familiar with this feeling: you have grown up seeing your parents scolded by an angry grocery clerk or policeman for appearing ignorant or slow; you have been denigrated or mocked by whites for excelling at the things you love or feel passionate about; you have felt betrayed by an authority who witnessed your persecution at one point or another, and pretended not to notice. You are familiar with the mistrust, lack of confidence, and sometimes, the outright fear, of the world outside your immediate family and friends; you have struggled consciously or unconsciously to accept or refuse the possibility that the world outside this insulated circle neither values nor encourages your participation and contribution to a wider community. If you can’t relate to what I’m saying, perhaps it’s all for the best, because I wouldn’t wish that consciousness and psychological conflict on anybody. But if you can relate to what your African-American brothers and sisters are feeling, you probably also understand that this is what most ethnic and / or historically underrepresented minorities, in the US and in every country, experience to one degree or another. It is the experience we share in common, an experience that oftentimes draws us close to one another in times of danger.
I want to underline this last point in order to foreground my basic message: I’m asking you to become or stay involved, and to make sure there are always Pinoy and Pinay voices, in the responses and activities to this event that will occur in the following weeks or months. I’m asking you to become or stay involved, first and foremost, because as historically underrepresented minorities we are directly implicated in both acts of racial hate speech and the university’s responses to it. As many of you who have taken my classes before may know, when the US conducted a near-genocidal war against the Philippines at the beginning of the twentieth century (which left between 500,000-1,000,000 dead, mostly civilians), both US soldiers and commanders often referred to Filipinos as “niggers.” In the 1920s and 30s, when Filipino Carlos Bulosan and his compatriots came to the US to escape the US-driven poverty in the Philippines, they were identified as “niggers,” and they were lynched, beaten, and murdered without any recourse to the law. To this day, the word retains the same popular meaning as it did at the turn of the century: to be a “nigger” means to be identified as an available target for extra-judicial violence and social exile, without right of appeal to an established or legitimate authority. This is what the word means, regardless of who uses it in what context. That is what makes it a dangerous word and concept. It is a word that attacks what it identifies, and paves the way for further violence.
My second reason for asking for your committed involvement is that your African-American friends, collaborators, and co-sponsors need you. They need you to defend and protect them, to promote and cultivate a climate and community that respects, safeguards, and enhances our humanity: our right to belong, to participate and contribute to the realization of common dreams. You may think that, because you don’t have as many co-sponsored activities with BSU, MEChA, or APSA, you don’t have much in common with them. You are wrong. We are all fighting to increase student recruitment and retention of historically underrepresented minorities at UCSD, whereas the groups that comprise the majorities at UCSD don’t need to do this. We are all faced with constant underfunding and are obliged to conduct recruitment and retention activities that are regularly performed by hired full-time staff in most other universities. We are all passionately invested in reproducing and reinventing the originality of our cultural heritage, its joys and sorrows, which help us understand how and why we remain separate from a greater cultural heritage that might be simply defined as “American.” They need you to give them respect, and ask for their respect in return. They need you to validate their humanity and their belonging; and to ask that they validate ours. They are our kababayan, whether they know it or not. In the past, African-Americans have historically fought for our rights to self-determination, both in the Philippines and in the United States. Whether we, or our parents, know it or not, we owe a great debt to them: both directly and indirectly, through the ways we have benefited from their pioneering struggles and sufferings. It is time to begin repaying that debt.
The third reason I ask for your concern and involvement is that it is time for our presence to be felt as a strong and united constituency within the UCSD academic community. Many of our parents raised us under the idea that if we wanted to pursue the American way of life, we have to shut up, avoid any negative attention, do our work quietly, respect all established authority, and pray that our efforts would be recognized and rewarded on earth as they would be in heaven. Our employers and managers tell us that our proper attitude towards authority should be a submissive form of gratitude. But to be a constituency means to actively participate in the constitution of governance, and one of the tasks of governance is the administration of justice. Have we been assigned the task and given the authority to act as judges over this case? No. Can our voices frame the way justice is administered, or imagined? As a constituency, yes.
A fourth and final reason for our support and involvement is that it gives us the opportunity to have the courage to use our own reason in the understanding and exploration of our racialized past and present. University administrators by and large have chosen to exonerate themselves from responsibility for the actions of the students and groups involved in these expressions of hate speech. Their reason for doing so, among others, is that they are afraid of legal repercussions if any reprisals implicate the university for infringing on the right to free speech, particularly when students are “technically” off campus.
In my opinion, this question does not rank as one of the more important questions to be asking about the implications of hate speech associated with our university. As Marx once said, the answer always depends on the form of the question that’s being asked. Do the events of the past week all boil down to the question of whether or not students have the right to exercise free speech? No. The scandal isn’t that the right to free speech might even include the right for individuals to denigrate and stereotype people: I can turn the TV to Fox News Channel and see the proof of that for myself any given day. The scandal is that an event like this could only happen in or around a university or institution that has failed in its commitment to academic and cultural diversity. The scandal is that many students at UCSD consider black people and communities as a product of their imaginations and consumer habits: an entertainment commodity we pay to watch on MTV, or hear on the radio. A stereotype we have the “right” to enjoy and take pleasure in, because we have paid good money to possess and consume it in the privacy of our homes and TV screens. The scandal is that many whites – and even Asian Americans – do not belong to a community that involved and involves the active participation and vital humanity of another person or community of color, another historically underrepresented minority. It’s not hard to see why: only 1 of every 50 students on this campus is African American, and only 1 of 10 students is Latina / Latino.
As those of you involved in the recruitment and retention of Pinay / Pinoy students on campus must know, when you deny a person, or group the right and opportunity to be part of a community, you deprive that person or group of the opportunity to represent and express their humanity. The dehumanization involved in the promotion of stereotypes is just a surface expression of a deeper, systemic dehumanization that has taken place, and that continues to take place in our university. The tragedy is the system that allowed, and even promoted, the permanent exile of a group of human beings from any meaningful participation in any form of community in America.
What can we do to change this? That’s my question. What’s yours?
Jody Blanco, Department of Literature