A letter from students and workers “of color” in the Takeover of Humanities 2

We have met as students and workers “of color” – a racialized category that we recognize as unstable and ambiguous – in the University of California Santa Cruz Takeover of Humanities 2. We exist, we are out here and we have something to say.

Many of us organize with and for a wide-ranging collective called Autonomous Students (AS). When students of color in AS find it necessary to organize autonomously within the group to advance our political goals, we do so. That is because we believe in the revolutionary potential of people of color (POC) autonomy. Autonomy to us means being not just independent from, but also antagonistic to, white-supremacist-capitalist-patriarchal power structures. These centers of power include, but are not limited to: the UC president Janet Napolitano, the UC Regents, every UC campus administration, and the armed repressive force of the state and capital, the police, and those that materially support these institutions.

Time and time again, our autonomous organizing space has been inaccurately referred to as “a white space” for two reasons. First, our politics and our praxis of autonomous organizing for worker and student solidarity has resulted in strong affinities with non-POC students and workers whose anti-authoritarian goals and tactics resonate with ours. Second, we absolutely reject the widespread notion throughout our university that we, as POC, will EVER achieve liberation through the administration and institutionalization of “POC” spaces, which are currently ideologically chained to university authoritarianism. We recognize and honor the work that many of our POC classmates and comrades have been able to achieve within these spaces; and we give thanks for the multiple legacies of revolutionary struggle that forced administrative power structures to concede these spaces. However, we believe that the best way to pay tribute to these legacies is to recognize the limitations that liberal multiculturalism has imposed on our communities, and push forward towards a greater actualization of liberation.

If we do not prioritize the political project of liberation from the co-optation of capitalism and white-supremacy, we will be stuck within a culture that is literally toxic to militant student organizing. We will risk a culture that encourages collaboration with token POC administrators, who will smile to our faces and stab us in the back. We will risk leaving ourselves vulnerable to the police. We will risk losing the opportunity to actually bring these power structures down.

WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO LET THIS TOXIC CULTURE CHIP AWAY AT THE AUTONOMOUS MOVEMENTS AGAINST THE TUITION HIKES. WE CANNOT ALLOW COLLABORATIONIST MULTICULTURALISM TO COMPROMISE THE STRUGGLE AGAINST MULTIPLE SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION THAT DRIVE THESE TUITION HIKES. WE CANNOT ALLOW THE VIOLENT SILENCING OF POC AND ANTI-AUTHORTARIAN VOICES THROUGH THE SKILLFUL DEPLOYMENT OF LIBERAL MULTICULTURALISM.

Students have succeeded in liberating Humanities 2 from the UC administration for 6 days (and counting). A significant portion of these students are POC who have played a major active role in organizing. But now the opportunity to build a movement against capitalist white-supremacy is being attacked by a toxic authoritarian culture, which has created a hostile and unsafe environment for POC autonomous organizers. Accusations of “white supremacy” have been insidiously deployed against POC autonomous organizers and used to silence them. What’s more, overly simplistic narratives about an “unsafe space for POC” have been used to actively defuse our movement, drive other POC away, and invisibilize the POC who continue to work in this space. We refuse to see our movement be destroyed. We are literally and figuratively being choked out of the UCSC community because of this 28% tuition increase spearheaded by Janet Napolitano and the UC Regents, with help from our campus administration, the police, and even some of our own classmates. We, the students of color of Autonomous Student UCSC are speaking out!

We need to dispel some misinformation right now. Autonomous Students is not and has never been “a white space.” And, the original movement to reclaim Humanities 2 was not driven by “white people” but by an authentically diverse group of students. These claims feed the racism of the power structure. It reinforces the lie that POC students cannot take radical action. It reinforces the lie that POC students cannot take leadership in groups with white allies. It reinforces the lie that POC students cannot be at the leading edge of struggles for radical liberation.

AS is a clearing house and affinity group who has come together around common interests and, most importantly, a shared struggle! For example, when, in the Spring of 2014, over a dozen POC autonomous students and workers were arrested during the pickets for basic rights of workers, their actions were repressed and denounced by the police, and administrators. The slander and lies that circulated about students and workers in turn influenced the opinions of many of our classmates on campus. But we knew what we were fighting for, and with commitment to our struggle we have developed respect and love for each other as a result.

So, when some students of color who are in the Student Union Assembly, who are interns for (or have known connections to) the Executive Vice Chancellor (EVC) or the UC Police Department, claim that they do not feel safe in our building occupation, we want to call bullshit! What sort of protection can we really expect from EVC Allison Galloway, the Dean of Students, Alma Sifuentes, and the police? What would Huey P. Newton say to the suggestion that we should snitch on our comrades? What would Assata Shakur say to the suggestion that we should work together with administrators? What would Fred Hampton say to the idea that we should abandon our revolutionary politics to collaborate with POC who have sold themselves to the power structure?

“People of Color” are not a homogenous group and shared victimhood is not self-evident. We are indeed aware that many of our friends, family members, and community members find themselves working for oppressive institutions (e.g. the prison and military industrial complex, the university, federal agencies, etc.); and we fully recognize that their complicity is enforced by structures which actively and intentionally recruit their support—knowing that various communities of color often have fewer options of employment and survival.

This is why establishing anti-authoritarian practices and politics among us is crucial, to ensure that we can trust one another. Accordingly, however, we also reserve the right to be antagonistic toward other POC whose interests are aligned with the ruling classes, the logics of white supremacy, and the general mistreatment of others. Racism’s existence can’t be denied, and it is experienced by individuals in different ways. The policing of “true POC identity” in POC spaces is also a form of racism. We refuse to be shamed for drawing lines of demarcation that rightfully separate us from governmental elites, such as Barack Obama, and certain community organizers whose complicity reinforces regimes of social regulation, disciplining and exploitation. We criticize and denounce POC who actively deport immigrants, wage imperialist wars, send youth of color to prison, poison our communities with rape, defend police brutality, and engage in authoritarian silencing of other POC.

We feel that it is because we have taken these principled stands that we are being scapegoated. Throughout the course of this building takeover, Autonomous Students has been blamed for a random collection of events that people do not like. When the students of color in AS are made invisible, when entire organizations are scapegoated, this creates a hostile environment for those students and workers of color who end up marginalized all over again! Playing on liberal white guilt doesn’t help us either; it reduces structural problems to individual ideas and does not help forge comrades in struggle. The University can only react with glee at such a course of events. This is not new. This has been done before.

Many of us in AS are committed to a project of imagining and building a collective future which is fueled by participatory democracy and working affinity groups. This means being accountable to one another, but it does not mean that the sole responsibility rests with any individuals or single affinity groups. What it means is that we have to defend participatory and anti-authoritarian processes that allow us to work through our political situation collectively. We invite all who are interested in building a project for liberation together to join us. The stakes are too high for anything less. 

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.” – Assata Shakur
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One Comment on “A letter from students and workers “of color” in the Takeover of Humanities 2”

  1. Reblogged this on Workers Against the University and commented:
    Education Should Be Free! is on fire with their letters and statements. The latest one, “A letter from students and workers ‘of color’ in the Takeover of Humanities 2” is a must read.
    Solidarity to all anti-authoritarian organizers, to Autonomous Students at Santa Cruz, and all those working on the problematics of co-optation from within positions of oppression.

    Like


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