In case you haven’t heard, the University of California at San Diego has been the location of some extremely overt racially motivated and hateful events in the last couple of weeks. Although many may say that “it all started when…”, that would be in error. A hostile environment has existed for far too long (and this is also likely true in many other places), but the overt and “in-your-face” nature of this has garnered national attention recently.

In “honor” (yeah, right) of Black History Month, a group of students at UCSD hosted a party called the “Compton Cookout”. It pretty much denigrated African-American students in a host of horrible ways. In response to protests about the party, a noose was then found hanging in the campus library. The unidentified student who admitted to placing it there apparently said that is wasn’t racially motivated (yeah, ok, really?) and then just a few days later a “KKK style hood” was placed on the head of a statue standing outside the library (not racially motivated either, right?)

From my vantage point, this is what happens when colorblindness rules our culture. We act as though racism goes away if we simply don’t talk about it. It gives us (white people especially) free reign to claim that nothing we do is about race and that it’s all in the past. And, the saddest part about it is that a bunch of people actually believe that b.s. We stay ignorant of our country’s history of racism…so we then can claim that our actions have no link to it. Then we blame the very people who have been injured by it for years and act like they are the ones creating the issue.

It’s like a wound being taped over so tight that no air or light can help it heal. Our racism has been festering underneath the cover of colorblindness (sometimes unconsciously) for years and it should be no surprise that it erupts full force once the surface is scratched.

It’s the reason the witnessing whiteness idea is so important (my bias, of course) because until we can actually recognize the deep history underlying our ideas and actions, we will continue to create and support the development of environments hostile to people of color and underrepresented groups.

Creating a teach-in to talk about “tolerance”, which is part of how UCSD responded, is pretty much in line with a colorblind approach. Without naming power and privilege, there is really nothing productive being accomplished.

If you’d like more info about this event, Democracy Now has a clip discussing the recent issues on the UCSD campus. “Following String of Racist Incidents, UC San Diego Students Occupy Chancellor’s Office.”

And yet, there are moments where I find hope. Just this last week I had the privilege of sitting at a dinner table with a phenomenal young white woman in Tulsa, OK who had just come home for spring break from a university in the midwest. She spoke of a recent outbreak of racism on her campus wherein a bunch of cotton was spread out on the lawn in front of the African American cultural center (if I remember correctly) and she had gone to her campus Town Hall to hear from their Chancellor. The good part is not how this Chancellor handled the situation. In fact, it is just as unhelpful as how UCSD is responding. It’s what this young white woman said to her Chancellor that I find encouraging.

As the Chancellor essentially ignored questions from students asking what the administration was going to do in response — this young woman, a freshman, took the microphone a second time, after her first effort was dismissed, and told her Chancellor in front of all that far more disturbing to her than the cotton balls is the way the administration was handling everything.

It’s not just her courage that touches me. In fact, at this point, perhaps that’s a minor point. Being a person of color on these campuses apparently takes far more courage. But, it’s her ability to perceive that injustice is truly being done that, sadly, appears rare. I applaud her and those around her (big shout out to the YWCA-Tulsa) for helping to create the awarenes that allowed her to stand up and be a witness for racial justice.

There are simply not enough white people standing up against these overt displays of racism and working to root out the underlying causes…yet! For those of us working toward that, let’s keep passing on these messages to build community and get the word out re: how much work we really need to do.