I’m a fourth-year white woman who frequents spaces in communities of color. I’m writing to say that I think the ASUC Perspective’s Showcase’s intentions to “help create a more inclusive and accepting Cal community” are great, but I want to urge you to think more critically about the way the multicultural community views this show.
In our society, there is a long history of slapping the words “multicultural” or “diversity” on any institution that has the presence of a more than tiny number of people of color. In many of these institutions, the people of color involved do not necessarily feel that the mission statement of the institution represents them or their values, and they do not necessarily feel safe when participating in it. By “safe,” I mean folks aren’t sure if what they say, do, or contribute to the institution will be valued or respected. Sometimes people are worried that others they work with will critique their opinions and ideas or even get angry at them.
“Multiculturalism” has a history of being a resistance culture. Of going further than the surface level usage of “representation” to engage in current race and class issues that matter to underserved communities of color. As a campus community, we need to make sure that the words “multiculturalism,” and “diversity” are not diluted any further than they already have been. To do this, we must make sure that any event using these words must take the values of marginalized communities to heart and have folks from these communities involved in planning, not merely have members of these communities present on stage.
When I attended the Perspectives show last year, I was dismayed to see virtually no organizations on stage that represent the traditional communities we view as “marginalized” and that identify as part of the multicultural community. I saw only one performance, by CalSLAM, that represented some of the many differing values and opinions of these communities. If this had been a true multicultural show, there would have been a resistance and activist-oriented theme throughout virtually every performance. Professor Victoria Robinson’s words rang with a note of irony when she said that it was just as important to be mindful of who’s not present as it is to be mindful of those who are.
This year, I was hoping that some changes would be made. While I do see a few more groups from communities of color participating, the promotion video for this year shocked me, to say the least. The majority of people with significant speaking roles in this video are white folks. Lauren Schrimmer, the perspectives director this year says, “It’s (perspectives) about being proud of ourselves and wanting to show off what we have, but more than that it’s about being proud of each other.”
I understand you feel proud that our institution is diverse and have the best of intentions when you say we should all be proud of each other. However, I don’t think that, as a community, the multicultural community feels that everything is sunshine and rainbows.
People of color at this university have to deal with racial micro-aggressions every day, and neither you nor I will ever know what this is like. To assume we know the true importance of a multicultural show is a slap in the face to people who experience hostile looks in cafes, offhand critiques of their culture and people asking if they even go here. Showing a string of white people talking about why Perspectives is a great show while people of color are shown running around in the background and a millisecond shot of them waving does not do justice to what people of color on our campus believe and value. Nor does it do justice to the ways in which they resist normative and racialized views of their presence on campus.
I strongly encourage that next year someone involved in the multicultural community chair this event or else the name and mission statement of this show needs to change. It is not representative of the multicultural community. In addition, there are other shows that do what Perspectives tries to do, like the Night of Cultural Resistance in the Multicultural Community Center. While this show does not reach the huge number of people that Perspectives does, it comes directly from the hearts and minds of those whom racism and marginalization most affect. It is an empowering experience for those who participate.
Let’s take some time to listen and learn from the communities whose cultures are constantly degraded, from the people who are constantly mistreated and pushed to the side. Only then will we be a “more inclusive and accepting Cal community.”
Rebecca Lee is a fourth-year student at UC Berkeley.
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