African American initiative is a positive step

Willow Yang/Staff

If you haven’t already heard, the University of California, Berkeley has announced the UC Berkeley African American Initiative. Intended goals include: (1) gaining a critical mass of Black students, faculty and senior staff to reduce feelings of isolation; (2) improving campus climate for current students and (3) achieving and projecting UC Berkeley as a “beacon for social mobility and global diversity” that respects and welcomes not only Black students, but all students. The Implementation Task Force will put this plan into action, chaired by highly capable and brand-new vice chancellor of equity and inclusion, Na’ilah Nasir.

In acknowledging the initiative, I would be remiss if I did not also recognize the yearlong efforts of the Black Student Union on campus. The BSU created a list of 10 demands for Black students at UC Berkeley and delivered them to Chancellor Dirks earlier in the year. It should also be noted that current vice chancellor of equity and inclusion, Gibor Basri, stated that a draft of the initiative was already in place when the demands were made. Though I cannot speak to the correlation between the demands and the initiative, it is clear that the work of student activists accelerated the process. The initiative itself is a huge step, but is it enough to solve the problem of anti-Blackness on UC Berkeley’s campus?

People of African descent have dealt with the plague known as anti-Blackness since even before the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Anti-Blackness manifests through both thoughts (ideology) and actions (institutions and policy) that uphold white supremacist values. In fact, the United States of America became an economic power by convincing white Americans that Black people were inferior to white people, hence “white supremacy.” People often “forget” about scientific racism, or the notion that Black people were seen as a completely different — and inferior — species than white humans. By convincing white people that Black people were only three-fifths of a person or less, chattel slavery was seen as a justifiable vehicle for unpaid work and therefore higher profits.

Anti-Blackness is not purely historical, though, and if you’re Black on this campus, student or not, chances are high that you have experienced it. Sometimes this anti-Blackness is indirect like the cardboard cutouts of Black lynching at the end of 2014. Sometimes this anti-Blackness is as direct as calling the world of Zora Neale Hurston “primitive” or “savage.” And at other times, these incidents can be filed under the concept of “microaggressions,” or unintentional acts of racism, sexism and heterosexism that rarely feel “micro.” As mentioned, these are not just issues that affect undergraduates, but also graduate students, faculty, staff and service workers.

Anti-Blackness, however, is not solely a “Berkeley problem.” Anti-Blackness is endemic to higher education.  In fact, Tukufu Zuberi and Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, two leading university sociologists, often write about the pervasiveness of white supremacy in academia. At a recent lecture for the UC Berkeley department of sociology, Bonilla-Silva discussed the white fragility that he encountered in his colleagues when discussing the whiteness of the discipline of sociology. Suddenly these very intelligent white men reduce Bonilla-Silva’s theories to individualism: “I am not a racist.” What they miss in their defense is their role as white men in a society that teaches white people to ignore their privilege and teaches marginalized people — such as Black people — that all of our problems are our own fault. In other words, we live in an openly white supremacist society that functions so well that even the social scientists meant to expose such intersecting systems of oppression cannot see it.

Another contribution of Zuberi and Bonilla-Silva is the concept of Black faces with “white logic.” During an American Sociological Association conference panel, Zuberi cited the hires of faculty who aspire to whiteness and therefore reinforce white supremacy through the guise of Blackness. Your skinfolk aren’t always your kinfolk; it is not just white people who perpetuate anti-Blackness.

Given anti-Blackness, white supremacy and white logic, let’s not lose sight of the goal of the UC Berkeley African American Initiative. This initiative plans to use institutional change to decrease intentional and unintentional hostility, disrespect and outright racism toward Black people at UC Berkeley. But in order to achieve the holistic goal, a critical mass of Black people is not enough. We, people of African descent, make up about six percent of the state of California and the goal is to match that percentage at UC Berkeley. That is not enough to combat anti-Blackness. Outside of increased numbers of students, faculty and staff, we need anyone who considers themselves to be an “ally” to work on combatting anti-Blackness on and off campus. This is where you, the reader, come in. Now that you’ve learned about anti-Blackness, your mission is to call it out when you see it.

Friends don’t let friends participate in anti-Blackness.

Anthony Williams is staff writer at the Afrikan Black Coalition, a Mellon Mays Fellow and a UC Berkeley senior. Contact the Opinion Desk at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter at @dailycalopinion.

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  • gregpiperCF

    “By convincing white people that Black people were only three-fifths of a person or less…” You seriously need a history lesson. The Three-Fifths Compromise was intended to LIMIT the political power of the slaveholding South. Are Berkeley students not required to take American history now?

    • lspanker

      I used to make an effort of explaining this same point as well, but those who get whipped into hysteria about it have an uncanny ability not to get it. Their behavior and reasoning skills (or lack of them) make it quite clear that many of these protesters never belonged on a college campus in the first place – not because of their skin color, but their demonstrable ignorance and inability to learn.

  • Jain

    Really well put together, thoughtful, and informative!! I hope you write more for the Daily Cal this article raised the level of discourse substantially

  • SlumberingPierrot

    Wasn’t responsibility for the cardboard cutouts claimed by an African-American political artist group, specifically in some sort of twisted support of Black Lives Matter? You can’t possibly turn around and spin that as anti-blackness just because it fits your specific narrative.

    • lspanker

      Funny how a lot of comments have simply disappeared…

  • lspanker

    Intended goals include: (1) gaining a critical mass of Black students, faculty and senior staff to reduce feelings of isolation

    You mean bring in MORE people of color who are unqualified to make it to Cal on their own merits (i.e. GPAs and SAT scores comparable with the white and Asian students who have to compete for admission) so that the unqualified ones here already don’t feel “alienated” or “isolated”?

    These ignorant fools can yell and scream all they want about “racism”, but the fact of the matter is that they are OPPOSED to genuine race/colorblind or merit-based admissions, and want special considerations for their own skin color instead.

    • Key’Toya Burrell

      Wow how did you even get into CAL without knowing that affirmative action ended a while ago so we black people have gotten into Cal by nothing short of our own merit and hard work not our skin color and we have done so while being and suffering from decades of systematic institutionalize racism and oppression so if you don’t like the article or the initiative that is fine but please use your head before you start saying who is smart and who is not.

      • laura

        How do you explain 230 SAT bonus points for skin color.

        “Lee’s next slide shows three columns of numbers from a Princeton University study that tried to measure how race and ethnicity affect admissions by using SAT scores as a benchmark. It uses the term “bonus” to describe how many extra SAT points an applicant’s race is worth. She points to the first column.
        African Americans received a “bonus” of 230 points, Lee says.
        She points to the second column.
        “Hispanics received a bonus of 185 points.
        The last column draws gasps.
        Asian Americans, Lee says, are penalized by 50 points — in other words, they had to do that much better to win admission.”

        • Key’Toya Burrell

          I don’t even have time or the energy to fact check that but are you seriously saying that people got into Berkeley the number one public university over 230 bonus points ..yea I’m sure that’s what did it Lol ..not like Berkeley also looks at GPA leadership skills and extra curricular nope I’m sure it was this imaginary 230 bonus points that made all the diffence ..if that’s the case and African American are favored so much I wonder why we only have like 3 % ..people are ridiculous

          • lspanker

            Your inability to write a properly spelled, grammatically correct reply only substantiates what many of us already know: Cal’s “diversity” policies provide college admissions for students who are academically unprepared for college life.

          • Key’Toya Burrell

            Actually I don’t have to intellectually masturbate myself while I comment on the web I dont really feel the need to spell or grammar check myself and usually I am typing really quickly from my smart phone because I dont usually respond to stuff unless I’m mad but for your information I’ve gotten nothing short of straight A’s I’m pre law majoring in political science and I’m on Cal’s nationally ranked mock trail team oh and I’m a Regents and chancellor’s scholar here at Cal so I don’t need to prove how smart I am on here I’ll write like I’m in the third grade if I want to I decided to come here I got into every school I applied to I don’t even find Cal hard just time consuming I can do what you can do and more I didn’t just go to school I also juggled 2 full time jobs and saved more in a year than you probably have in your entire life so trust me I’m good lol oooh but you know I probably got all of those things because I’m black … I hate how cowards like you love to put others down but hide behind your computer screens you wouldn’t dare say those things to someone face you are all gutless and misinformed and in grave need of a sociology class it’s people like you who don’t deserve to come to Cal you ruin everything it stands for

          • lspanker

            Wow, you’re so smart and educated but you can’t even perform at the level of an 8th grader when it comes to grammar and punctuation? The lady doth protest too much, methinks…

          • Key’Toya Burrell

            How well i text him my android doesn’t matter im texting on one hand while reading lol so if thats all you have to say than miss me with that I am just as qualified as you and yet I had to jump over way more hurdles therefore nothing else matters don’t respond because I won’t bother responding however when you grow balls and actually can talk from behind your little screen hit me up lol

          • lspanker

            How well i text on my android doesn’t matter

            If your thoughts are important enough to post in a forum intended for (supposedly) educated individuals, it’s worth the time to do take the effort to use proper English. Something tells me that you really don’t have that level of proficiency to begin with.

          • Key’Toya Burrell

            Dude just shut up this is the comment section it’s not that serious ? and no matter what you say I’m in the same school as you with the same GPA and I have no doubt that I will get into a great law school so yea I’m dumb you win let me just sit here and cry I’ll probably wipe my tears with all of my accolades lol I’m pretty sure your an anti social ugly sorry execuse for a human I don’t know why I am entertaining you I actually have friends ✌

          • lspanker

            I’m in the same school as you with the same GPA

            Hmm, how do you know that again?

            I have no doubt that I will get into a great law school

            Can you do it without playing the race/diversity card?

          • lspanker

            I don’t even have time or the energy to fact check

            Which is why you are naive and gullible to believe anything that confirms your preconceived notions, correct?

          • Key’Toya Burrell

            Really get a life

          • lspanker

            I see you couldn’t come up with an intelligent argument to support your position, could you? That’s OK… just scream “racism” at the top of your lungs and get all the mushy-headed liberals to feel sorry for you.

          • Remy Mia

            lspanker you are LITERALLY proving why this initiative is necessary. and in case my credentials to “reason” with you are in question, i studied mechanical engineering and am asian, which has THE lowest acceptance rate.

      • lspanker

        Wow how did you even get into CAL without knowing that affirmative action ended a while ago

        Call it “diversity” or whatever, it’s still the same thing with a more PC label.

        we black people have gotten into Cal by nothing short of our own merit and hard work not our skin color

        That’s true for many of the black students that I personally knew at Cal, but certainly NOT for all of them, based on the dismal graduation rate of blacks in general. If that were really the case, then why are you fighting a race-blind, merit based admissions policy and trying to overturn Prop 209?

  • laura


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