As the summer term comes to a close, I’m left reflecting on all that I’ve learned over the past few months of school. While completing my race and law minor, one of my professors proposed a question for an assignment that I wasn’t used to, and it helped me think in a way that I feel can go overlooked when indulging in the immediate hysteria of a radical shift in social discourse: What’s the long-term solution?
In the context of race in America, it is the abolition of systems that have historically harmed, and continue to harm, BIPOC. But that doesn’t have to be as dramatic as it sounds.
Change, as I’ve come to know over the course of 12 columns, is gradual. But within the context of our American government, it is slowed exponentially, even when it might not seem like it.
Throughout American history, protests, riots and demonstrations have been inspired by the pain suffered by marginalized communities. In 1913, it was the Women’s Rights Movement and the fight for women’s suffrage. In 1963, it was the March on Washington. In response, significant legislation was passed to address the people’s demands: Women were given the right to vote, and the (supposedly) landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.
Although these bills and laws were seemingly progressive, we are still, today, faced with many of the problems they were meant to rectify. Women are still not granted the same rights that men are — for one, our wages are only about 80% of men’s wages — and Black and Indigenous citizens still suffer institutional racism.
In a more modern context, Black Lives Matter protesters today have been met with government actions that also seem hollow and ineffectual. Breonna Taylor’s case is a good example. The reopening of Taylor’s case while the officers responsible are still free creates a semblance of change, when change is not actually happening. The length of time it’s taken to resolve such a seemingly open-and-shut case is a tribute to the notion that the court never really intends for it to be solved. While these gestures by the government might seem like achievements, they are often only appeasements that end up perpetuating the harmful systems they’re intended to address. It’s like we’re stuck in the Matrix — those in power have presented illusions of progress to satisfy our questioning of society.
This is the dilemma I was met with when brainstorming the ominous question of solutions. Trying to push aside this inescapable Baudrillardian fate, I found a common factor within each of these major movements that invites a glimmer of optimism: students.
Being young, as I have noted in my previous columns, comes with many benefits — the ability to hope and dream being the most liberating (or dangerous, depending on your take). The will to take up a cause is the shining catalyst of real change, and to change a country like America, public opinion must change first. Eventually, laws will reflect this shift in value.
But in order to change opinions, racial education and restoration are key. Activists, academics and students alike have been thinking about these problems for decades, and I think one excellent immediate yet long-term solution is an ethnic studies requirement within the educational system.
This week, new legislation was signed into law in California requiring California State University students to take a three-unit ethnic studies course in order to graduate. The requirement focuses on four historically disadvantaged groups: African Americans, Native Americans, Latinx Americans and Asian Americans. Ethnic studies is a valuable part of a college education, but it is important that we carry it further if we want to avoid perpetuating the same systems of oppression.
Ethnic studies should be a requirement, backed by law, for all levels of education — not just for college-aged STEM students who will go into fields that shape our future, but for all kids, who will inherit the unjust systems we leave behind. Creating the proper context as to how American systems perpetuate harmful, white supremacist ideology is a first step. Ethnic studies offers valuable understandings of how power structures arise, connecting historical trends to our modern-day systems. Having these difficult conversations at an early age can remove stigma, allowing for open and informed discussions as society begins to address questions of reparations and restorative justice.
My first ethnic studies class took place during my freshman year of college. To begin having discussions of race when I had already become accustomed to social norms was jarring, even though I’ve constantly been met with the realities of institutional oppression. We teach social sciences and American colonization as early as third grade, but the propaganda that fills textbooks does not accurately portray the history of BIPOC. Instead, it generates a harmful status quo that champions whiteness.
Society stems from the umbilical cord of white supremacist power structures, and only once we begin to reject our host can we be birthed anew. Having ethnic studies education at earlier stages of our lives would improve our knowledge of structural racism and, much like my race and law minor has for me, better equip us to think about solutions — solutions that go even further, beyond the walls of academia, to spur social change.
Savon Bardell writes the Friday column on the experience of being a Black student at UC Berkeley. Contact her at [email protected]