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Panthers don't roar

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OCTOBER 27, 2017

Steer away from UC Berkeley,  a home for the radical commies!

Some people genuinely fear and detest this place. Perhaps the most ridiculous claim I have heard about this campus was that the mere association with this environment is conducive to leftist identification. Interestingly, people fail to extend the same logic when someone visits Louisiana, the heart of the Tea Party. There are no stories of them returning as racist rednecks who joined the Ku Klux Klan.

To be fair, Cal has a unique history of protest and is known to lean more to the left in comparison to the rest of the nation. In the midst of anti-Vietnam protests, University of California President Clark Kerr was criticized by a California State Senate subcommittee for permitting the infiltration of communists, and the New York Times reported that protests at UC Berkeley consisted “of obscene entertainment, marijuana smoking, homosexuality, and plotting.” Arguably, nothing has changed.

But these claims of radicalism at UC Berkeley or the campus community’s supposedly excessive predilection for “political correctness” or our function as “home of the alt-left” permit those who disagree and their name-calling to avoid scrutiny. This is because they can undermine rising, challenging ideas simply by labeling  them “too radical” or nonsensical or engaging in other name-calling. Personifying “the other” as extremists out of discomfort only serves as an escape from confronting issues that do not affect the privileged, affluent and the ignorant. Even UC Berkeley is guilty of this. In fact, protests in Berkeley back then were frowned upon by the administration, when now they are celebrated as a proud tradition of this school because of its legacy.

Take the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense as a local example. Its methods to highlight police brutality and economic inequality against Blacks were undoubtedly controversial. But John Hulett, a sheriff of Lowndes County, Georgia, Civil Rights activist and chairman of the party, argues that the black panther is an appropriate symbol because if “attacked, it would not back up. That (they) would fight back if (they) had to” — that the Black community would no longer accept oppression through economic exploitation and police brutality.

Now, looking back, some disagree with the party’s possession of guns in front of police as party members marched into the California State Legislature in Sacramento to reinforce the point that Blacks, too, had a constitutional right to bear arms and would defend themselves if the state and Civil Right laws refused to recognize pandemic police brutality in America.

Yet today, many omit and refuse to recognize self-defense as a reasonable aspect of the Black Panther Party’s mission. By painting the Black Panther Party as a merely violent and irrational group, most miss the self-defense clarification behind the purpose of this organization: Protect Black Americans from police brutality and systematic oppression.

In Sacramento, no one from the party came in with the intention to shoot, nor did they actually shoot. They made a statement by peacefully possessing arms in self-defense of the Black community. The party even provided community support through “Survival Programs” that distributed resources such as education, tuberculosis testing, legal aid, transportation assistance and ambulance service, so as to fill a gap in government assistance. To claim irrational, unprovoked violence as the face of this party is wholly inaccurate with regard to its history and miscalculates its influence on social justice in the modern day.

The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense exemplifies an unconventional, surprisingly effective and startling wake-up call for an older United States that was intentionally ignoring the Black working class after the Civil Rights Movement. As students of UC Berkeley, being mindful and aware of our protest culture and history is a priority. Narrowly believing the status quo and refusing to challenge accepted norms revolving around social movements that have shaped our livelihood today is dangerously one-dimensional. Our goal is to engage in a holistic narrative of social change.

White supremacists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia seemed to receive less criticism than UC Berkeley students protesting the “alt-right,” because somehow, society still permits white supremacists to organize nationwide racist platforms despite the naive belief that racism is in the past. Yet, their need to distinguish themselves as a minority in an American political reality while the Black Lives Matter movement is criticized for “exclusivity” and “discrimination” actually reveals their own discomfort with efforts to reduce the inequality gap between white people and people of color.

In fact, undermining the Black Lives Matter campaign with #AllLivesMatter to divert attention from real police brutality and persisting racist policies affecting Black Americans only fuels the very discourse of identity politics and polarization the “alt-right” claims the leftist campus community is fostering.

It is important to recognize that discomfort is progress, that claiming radicalism of one side is hardly the whole picture and ignores the task at hand of working together on fundamental American problems. If the UC Berkeley community is known to be the “commies,” the “snowflakes” and the “libtards,” so be it — but these labels will not hamper our tradition of questioning the status quo and the world as it exists today.

Dohee Kim writes the Friday column on UC Berkeley's past and present. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @dohee_nicole ‏.

JANUARY 30, 2018