Past, present and absence

Berkeley Got Back

Nicole Kim Mug

As an intended sociology (and political science) major, I am accustomed to hearing deprecating remarks about my field from peers studying in other, more “legitimate” departments. In fact, I join in on the fun. Teasing myself is one way to cope with crippling anxiety over my future career.

Of course, I am only half-kidding.

Sure, sociology is not as scientific and empirical as biomechanical engineering, but sociologists critically dissect taken-for-granted assumptions embedded in our discourse, such as the definition of presence. Many forget that in the process of defining what is present, we unconsciously acknowledge what is absent. Unfortunately, the latter fails to receive equal attention.

Within the United States, there is a clear absence of people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ community and indigenous peoples in Trump’s priority list — the United States’ priority list. Milo Yiannopoulos argues that the “alt-right” has been oppressed by an overly “politically correct” culture on college campuses. Apparently, “liberal snowflakes” are the majority dispossessing the right to free speech of “alt-right supporters.” But the facts fail to add up: Trump’s ascendency to presidency reflects a strong following, a presence, of those who agree with his policies: anti-immigration, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous rights, anti-feminist, anti-welfare, anti-environment, and unfortunately, the hunt to erase their presence continues.

In the fall of 1964, Mario Savio, Jackie Goldberg, Steve Weissman and other leaders of the Free Speech Movement protested campus policy that silenced politically active students fighting for Black people’s presence in public spaces and access to equal employment opportunities. At one point in Berkeley’s history, businesses on Telegraph and Shattuck avenues, the two main commercial strips even to this day, enforced racially discriminatory segregative practices. Students could no longer ignore the reality that local stores in Berkeley, Lucky’s supermarkets, and hotels such as the Sheraton Palace in San Francisco refused to employ African Americans because of the color of their skin.

When students and locals began to organize sit-ins, picketing and “shop-ins,” the federal government pressured UC Berkeley and state officials, such as former UC president Clark Kerr and Governor Pat Brown, to restrain political activism. Then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover targeted the movement, which he feared to be involved with Communist sympathizers.

Reprisals from UC Berkeley only incited more dauntless resistance from fellow students. Discouragement of civil disobedience only spurred the Free Speech Movement to eventual victory with the very tactics UC Berkeley banned.

When Savio declared, “All of us must refuse to accept history’s final judgment that in America there is no place in society for people whose skins are dark,” he points to the systemically rooted absence of Black people. In fighting for the inclusion of Black people, Cal students also fought for the presence of their voices.

Last week, Savio’s words echoed in my mind as students were filing in, waiting for my sociology professor to start her lecture. She started with a free discussion on whether classes should continue during “Free Speech Week.” For a rare moment, individual student voices were elevated, rather than suppressed, as on campus where police officers, white supremacists and distorted media portrayal disregard their input. Could you believe that in this lecture hall, the presence of students was tangibly strong, when out there we are invisible?

National narratives emphasize the violence of broken windows or destroyed property during protests, but they fail to acknowledge the absence of student services and resources when our education is disrupted by an intimidating military presence. Those who spout hate speech are oblivious to the violence they inflict as a privileged group that does not have to fear doxing, deportation and police brutality.

My job as an aspiring sociologist, political scientist and journalist is to materialize the invisible before your very own eyes. I am not here to waste your time, regurgitating what we already know — what we already see. I choose to voice those who are silent, drowned out by those who are loud, because they will never be able to speak if no one notices their absence first.

To exploit an abstract principle such as free speech to invalidate the existence of people of color, women, LGBTQ+ community and DACA recipients contradicts the core principle of free speech for “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Yes, “Mario Savio is Dead”… and rolling in his grave.

Dohee Kim writes the Friday column on UC Berkeley’s past and present.

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  • Killer Marmot

    If the government punished or silenced your speech. Kim, then the 1st amendment would feel far more palpable.

  • Killer Marmot

    To exploit an abstract principle such as free speech to invalidate the existence of people of color, women, LGBTQ+ community and DACA recipients contradicts the core principle of free speech for “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

    Would someone please define “invalidate the existence of people” for me? I have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

    • zzz

      Free speech is hardly abstract. The only way a person can be ivalidated is if they let themselves be invalidated.

      • Killer Marmot

        That doesn’t help.

  • SecludedCompoundTTYS

    It’s more the fact that you wont be able to find a job because your “skills” can be learned by reading books and studying solo online while possibly spending money on traveling and living in different cultures and societies. People laugh because you are spending a lot of money in a field that doesn’t have that many jobs these days. It’s called common sense. Then you go on to bash conservatives I guess, YOU GO GIRL!

  • Killer Marmot

    Kim begins by defending sociology as a legitimate, disciplined field of study, and then immediately dives into politics.

    That might be the problem right there. To most, it looks like partisanship dressed up as scholarship.

  • lspanker

    Within the United States, there is a clear absence of people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTQ+ community and indigenous peoples in Trump’s priority list

    Maybe Trump and his supporters don’t have the same obsessions with identity-based politics as you do. If not, good for them.

    • zzz

      Here’s an novel idea, go through life as an individual, something that the modern sociologist finds rough.

  • jim hoch

    “materialize the invisible before your very own eyes” In other words “just make stuff up”. I’m glad the author is not surprised that people who actually study look down on her so at least she some degree of self awareness.

  • My issue with the left is that people on the left only talk to each other. I actually want to know what the best counterarguments are against right wing points, but people on the left are too busy crying racist/sexist/etc. to actually understand the arguments.

    • zzz

      To them the use of buzz words is the end of the debate.

  • Jack Spencer

    How can you complain about being silenced, when you are given the largest forum? Except for Facebook, very few of us are published foe widespread circulation.

  • Man with Axe

    This is not only hyperbole, but also a kind of group defamation. “Trump’s ascendency to [the] presidency reflects a strong following, a presence, of those who agree with his policies: anti-immigration, anti-Black, anti-Indigenous rights, anti-feminist, anti-welfare, anti-environment, and unfortunately, the hunt to erase their presence continues.”

    I didn’t vote for Trump because I think he is a jackass (among other reasons), but that quote is accusing the people who did vote for him of being racists, sexists, anti-immigrant, and more, and, if that last clause means what she says, incipient génocidaires. Maybe she doesn’t know what she means.

    In truth, although there are extremists on both sides of the political spectrum, from Nazis to Antifa’s anarchist thugs, not very many of the 63 million people who voted for Trump are extremists as the author describes them. Rather, in my opinion they are mostly people who would never vote for Hillary Clinton, and were tired after 8 years of Obama. Many millions of them voted for Obama but not for Clinton, which disproves pretty much everything that the author said about them.

    According to a persuasive longitudinal study of a wide range of voters in 2016 the conclusion was that the single biggest mistake Hillary made was to call Trump supporters “deplorable.” That day her support had its single biggest drop.

    And here is this author calling them much worse, as her way of “validating the existence of people.” The irony is so thick one could choke on it.

  • RGnome

    Freedom of speech is the right to speak. Oppressing that right is the silencing of people. I’m not sure that the author is correct that the argument is that liberal snowflakes are the majority oppressors, but even if she is correct, does that mean that it is wrong to object to this oppression? I would argue that it is not. Maybe there are causes that are more important but fighting against oppression does have broad approval and there are people trying to silence right wing speakers. I’m not going to agree that such a fight is exploiting the principle of free speech. Free speech actually is at stake.

  • zzz

    Sociology as practiced by Seymour Martin Lipset(Politics of Unreason, the Political Man), Daniel Bell(The End of Ideology), and even Richard Hofstadter and his (Paranoid Style of American Politics) as a historian is actually very interesting and relevant. Sociology as practiced by post modernists and their status ravings is not very interesting, if every answer is “status” the question is “who cares?”

    It was once a very interesting discipline taken over by the post modernist and identitarianist inmates, so of course people in real disciplines laugh at the soft science non sense. When you turn in Karl Popper for critical theory, rational people don’t care about your opinions. If feminist critiques of Xena Warrior Princes is your thing then have at it, relegate yourself to the backwaters by choice but don’t complain about it.

    I was at Bibliomania in Oakland a few weeks ago and they had two copies of “The Politics of Unreason” for a reasonable price, pick it up.

  • Rollie

    ”To exploit an abstract principle such as free speech to invalidate the existence of…”

    This silly “existence” argument again. You won’t persuade reasonable people to your way of thinking by exaggerating. Ceasing to exist is a literal occurrence that I hardly have to explain, and clearly, no one’s speech at Berkeley has caused this to happen. The closest thing we’ve seen are certain anti-free-speech protesters who have actually put lives in danger.

    More importantly, no one can invalidate anything about you unless you cede the power to do so. Otherwise they can only try, and will only fail. Have some faith in your own convictions. Let the Milos, the Coulters and the whoever-you-oppose’s of the world do their worst, knowing that they can’t penetrate your own self- assurance unless you let them. Encourage others to believe in themselves. By now you might suspect that I’m really saying “Sticks and stones…”, and you’d be right. Words to live by.

    And if Savio’s rolling over in his grave, it isn’t because people are getting their feelings hurt, but because so many of his campus descendents prefer to flee from objectionable speech rather than stand and face it with confidence.

    • zzz

      Psychology used to be where people with issues would go to figure out their own manias. Sociology is now where people with self esteem issues go to feel empowered when their teacher asks them if they are emotionally strong enough to attend a class while it’s raining outside.

      • BlackConservative

        And I think many sociology students or pre-students are naive, thinking that they can change the world somehow with no valuable skills that you can’t learn online when signing up for sociology major. I hope she realizes, you can read books and take free online classes and learn far more by yourself. These majors do not need to be taught anymore in school. They just keep making more and more crap up to keep the ball moving and try to stay relevant. It’s pretty obvious to me over the last 20 years. It’s not new!

        • lspanker

          That fact that many undergrad Sociology majors don’t take the degree seriously THEMSELVES doesn’t make their pleas for credibility any more convincing. When the primary attraction of a given major is its reputation for easy As and minimal impositions on your collegiate party schedule, it’s clear that it’s not going to be filled with disciplined, motivated students with high levels of intellectual curiosity, but slackers. The disdain directed at sociology and other humanities programs by those pursuing STEM majors is simply the result of recognizing those who aren’t serious about their college opportunities in the first place…

          • BlackConservative

            Let’s be real. She is a sociology student. I would be defensive too if I was being told I was wasting 10’s of thousands of dollars on a worthless degree with “skills” that no business wants. This author will not use her sociology degree unless she works for the government or continues her education (wasting more money) to become a “teacher” while having littler to no real world experience. The major epidemic sociologists should be studying in the US but they aren’t; is the voluminous amount of science/factual data regarding black on black crime, crime in the minority communities, and how certain cultures in america can be helped. But they would rather ignore the real issues in most cases because of multiculturalism and PC BS.

          • lspanker

            Q: What did the sociology graduate tell her first client on her first day of work?
            A: “Would you like fries with that???”

          • BlackConservative

            Let’s be real. She is a sociology student. I would be defensive too if I was being told I was wasting 10’s of thousands of dollars on a worthless degree with “skills” that no business wants. This author will not use her sociology degree unless she works for the government or continues her education (wasting more money) to become a “teacher” while having littler to no real world experience. The major epidemic sociologists should be studying in the US but they aren’t; is the voluminous amount of science/factual data regarding black on black crime, crime in the minority communities, and how certain cultures in america can be helped. But they would rather ignore the real issues in most cases because of multiculturalism and PC BS.

  • BlackConservative

    The 1st amendment isn’t some abstract principle to be manipulated to what you want. You will be a far better sociologist if you aren’t so outwardly looking for what you want based on your biases. Just my opinion.