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The Campus Race Protests Are About Systemic Racism That's Never Gone Away

The Campus Race Protests Are About Systemic Racism That's Never Gone Away

Luna Olavarría Gallegos

This week’s student protests may be organized on social media, but they’re not addressing anything new. The iconic moment of black campus protests was captured way back in 1969, when students from Cornell University’s Afro-American Society left Willard Straight Hall carrying rifles and wearing bandoliers, part of a protest against disciplining black students who had advocated for an Africana Studies and Research Center. Forty-six years later, students all over the country continue to protest for their right to exist on a college campus free of racial discrimination.

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I think it important to also ask additional questions:

  • Why have so many corporations gutted (a la Romney) industries in the US, shuttered their communities into impoverishment-for-privatization and taken the exploitation model to other countries where rights of workers have virtually no voice? Could it be that the enslavement model was faced with public awareness that profits by extraction of lives and communities actually destroy our understanding of “economy”?
  • What happened in the agriculture sector when this global expansion shifted into high gear? Explosive growth in the former military chemical industry that bulldozed small farm models for global use of untested carcinogens, buying political heft and undermining the capacity for autonomy and self-determination of entire peoples, societies to devastating effect?
  • Why is “Disaster Capitalism” so prevalent that its profile can be check-listed with a prophetic litany of negative consequence?

Could it be because the corporation-political model (otherwise defining “fascism”) KNOWS that dehumanization practiced since slavery and indigenous genocide is now being recognized along with the spectrum of all ills generated by it?

  • Why does this perverse model demand absolute authoritarian power under the guise of ‘national security’, ‘terrorism’, ‘economic growth’, ‘privatization’?
  • Could it be that the frantic digging going on by the fractional financial derivatives model, the hyper conservative exclusionary dynamic so utterly dependent on creating demonization, marginalization, campaigns of fearful disinformation, a media that mirrors ONLY the narrative of this cabal … could it be that the ‘giant vampire squid’ has inked itself into an inextricable corner and its centuries old monstrosity baring its fangs while frantically attempting to apply layer upon layer of lipstick fast turning into blood?

Just out of curiosity, precisely what do these powers think would be lost by actually learning from the centuries of grievous abuses, the era of killing by a thousand minute cuts, of the scorn and come-hither posturing based on the belief that all that is needed is the corporate money for the next selection?

Do none of these abusive entities see that if the model adhered to is exclusionary, what is ultimately excluded is the essence of life, the capacity to report on the ACTUAL consequences outside of the ivory tower - whether academic, corporate or political, the three having been in intense concert as one for decades at this point?

All one need do is take a good long look at the world around us and the consequences are not only aggregating, they are now interactive in exponentially changing feed-back loops. These are not something to fear, they are indicators of the absolute necessity to end the stunningly brittle model and dynamics rendering consequences of authoritarianism by dint of abusive power that got that way by being that way for centuries.

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I am happy to see the recent rise in student activism at some universities.

At the same time, I am very disturbed by the development of dynamics enforcing silence that I have seen through my work at science/engineering universities.

With faculty, I have seen two manifestations of this trend to enforce silence.

First, the reduction in public support for education has led to increased financial dependence on the private sector and the US military. Faculty understand that voicing perspectives unfavorable towards corporate sponsors or the military puts them at risk for loss of funding. Given that status quo economics in the US maintain racial disparities, my sense is that concern for the consequences plays a factor in faculty tendency to avoid the topic racial justice.

Second, many universities have adopted a business model by which they cut costs by hiring adjuncts rather than tenured professors. Adjuncts know that criticizing their university can easily lead to their being fired.

With students, I have seen similar dynamics.

Students, particularly graduated students and undergraduate students in coop or internship programs, understand that speaking out or taking actions for racial or social justice will impact their ability to maintain their status and to gain employment in the future.

Foreign students face even more dire consequences. Speaking out may result in them losing their visas.

I am aware of, and work with, small groups of activists students and faculty at several science/engineering universities. This is encouraging. If anybody has information on larger scale racial justice and/or social justice activism at science/engineering universities, please let me know.


Racism that never goes away: this is like the (polite or not) anti-Semitism that kept Jewish students out of colleges with 5% quotas right up to the 50s, 5% being the proportion of Jews to wasps in the US. We Jews don’t think anti-Semitism (aka anti-Zionism to make it politer) is going to end, and it seems to be escalating, but I think we can be a model for black and brown Americans. We’re “in” pretty much everywhere. It may take more than 46 years for that to happen for black people, and prejudice will never be completely eradicated, but intermarriage is making our citizenry browner and blacker, and society will have to be more inclusive. Forty-six years from now, we’ll be short of water and food, so let’s hope we all, whatever religion or race, can get our fair share.

Race, racism, and white privilege and its justifying ideology of supremacy have never been the children of physical characteristics, but rather the domination-driven creators of ideologically racialized physical characteristics. Intermarriage changes nothing if ideas, ideologies, and structures of oppression do not change–just witness today’s very light-skinned Black folk experiencing plenty of second-class citizenship or far worse. As a colleague of mine said, “I used to be Jewish, but now I’m white,” that is a statement of how U.S. society’s dominant racial ideas have shifted for Jews, although certainly not without continuing anti-Semitism in different forms. Biology did not create “race,” human history has.