Although we attend a campus that espouses the right to freedom of speech stemming from the Free Speech Movement in the 1960’s, it is sad to see that this freedom is offered to some and denied to others. Freedom of speech does not imply that anyone completely agrees with what the speaker says; however, it does dictate the right for one to speak. The history of the Free Speech Movement seems to have been lost.
Do we as students want to revert back to when “controversial” speakers weren’t allowed to speak on our campus? Should we allow our differences to cause us to forget about the legacies that have paved the way for us, like that of Mario Savio and the Free Speech Movement, or Malcolm X, who at one time was forbidden to speak at UC Berkeley because of his political viewpoints?
Who determines which speakers are “politically correct” enough to speak at our “diverse” campus? History tells us that there has always been a character assassination of high profile black leadership, ranging from Frederick Douglass to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to President Barack Obama. So why is it unacceptable for one of the most successful black leaders to be invited to speak to young black students from across the state of California?
Minister Louis Farrakhan has a proven track record for implementing black self-determination, unity and economic empowerment. He effectively organized the largest gathering of black people in American history with the Million Man March. After attending this very event, President Obama said, “What I saw was a powerful demonstration of an impulse and need for African American men to come together to recognize each other and affirm our rightful place in the society” — which motivated him to run for office.
Farrakhan has also helped to established a plethora of educational systems designed to promote academic excellence among black students. He has been received by the highest dignitaries across the world, including but not limited to Jamaica, Russia, Haiti and Nigeria, in his attempt to foster black unity and a respect for all humankind. Despite the fact he has been labeled an anti-Semite, he has repeatedly said, “I have never been anti-Semitic. I have never been a hater of Jews, nor am I now that,” while meeting with members of the Jewish community.
As human beings, we posses the right to self-determination — the right to determine our own destiny. Why is it that our ability to have self-determination is being challenged? It is offensive that, as black students, we are viewed as not having the intellectual capacity to choose a speaker who addresses our needs. As black citizens, we know what the needs of our community are, especially during a time when institutional racism, lack of access to higher education and the influx of black citizens in the prison industrial complex leave our community in a continued state of emergency. We sought to have speakers who would address these critical issues while espousing self-determination, economic empowerment and the importance of becoming agents of social change. It is unfortunate that a year’s worth of conference planning has been reduced to a single speaker. It is not only disrespectful but shows a lack of appreciation of black students at UC Berkeley.
Where the campus concern revolves around the presence of Louis Farrakhan, we believe that the real emphasis should be on the consistent, systematic and painful exclusion of black students at the University of California. The UC system only holds 3.3 percent of black students — 5,741 black students out of 173,078 total students — according to a September 2010 UC Diversity Report. Not only should the campus community be readily outspoken about the low numbers of black students and other underrepresented communities, but they should also be consistently outspoken about the plethora of racist incidents that happen at this very campus.
It was not our intentions to offend any community with our closed conference. If anything, we have made a constant effort to foster dialogue with and among other communities. We want to reiterate that no keynote is the center of our conference, and that the purpose of the conference over the past 10 years has been to address the various issues surrounding the black community. Our entire conference, including Minister Farrakhan, addresses these needs.
The Black Student Union,
University of California, Berkeley
The Black Recruitment and Retention Center,
University of California, Berkeley
Zienab Abdelgany, President,
UC Berkeley Muslim Student Association
Joelle Gamble, External Vice President,
UCLA Undergraduate Association
The Afrikan Student Union,
University of California, Los Angeles
Salih Muhammad is the president of the Black Student Union at UC Berkeley.