Challenging racism in society

Lucian Villaseñor

As public outrage grows toward the racist violence that African-Americans and people of color live with on a daily basis, the public is learning that incidents such as the murder of Trayvon Martin are not isolated or random occurrences. Trayvon’s murder is another example of the institutionalized racism that is alive and well in our society and often goes unchallenged—but no longer at the University of Texas.

On March 27 during the silent rally for Trayvon at the state Capitol, an extra current of antagonism ran through the crowd of nearly 500 people. A large contingent of UT students were talking about a racist cartoon that was published by The Daily Texan, the University’s official student newspaper, that same day.

Former UT student Chas Moore addressed the crowd, and soon after they took the streets of Congress, marching to City Hall, reminiscent of past Occupy Austin marches. Moore addressed the crowd at the end of the march and called upon them to link up the struggle of police brutality with LGBT and women’s rights. Michelle Uche, UT student and member of the International Socialist Organization on campus, led the crowd in a mic-check and said, “If there are any UT students who want to organize against this cartoon and other racist issues on campus, come over here!” Nearly 100 students stepped forward, and Uche’s friends quickly went to work handing out clipboards to collect contact information and facilitate the discussion with the large crowd using grassroots organizing skills they honed during months of participating in Occupy Austin.

Uche and fellow students called for a picket of The Daily Texan office the next day, and nearly 100 students and faculty members rallied outside to demand the editorial board publicly apologize for publishing the cartoon, denounce the cartoonist by refusing to publish future comics and open up the editorial section to African-American studies professors and students. The conversation with the editorial board at the rally and comments from the online version of the newspaper revealed that board members as well as a large portion of students are not aware of the oppression that African-Americans, Latinos, Arabs, Asians or any person of color has to live with daily and the kinds of privileges that white people can take advantage of and abuse.

A few hours later, the editorial board published an apology, in which it said the cartoonist “no longer works for The Daily Texan.” Now some individuals on campus are trying to rally around re-instating the cartoonist under the guise of protecting free speech, going so far as to create an online petition that states that students are offended because of a “perceived racism within the cartoon itself.”

The cartoon is racist because it perpetuates the idea that anti-black racism is merely a myth or a bedtime story, when the reality is African-American males live in a color-blind society that overwhelmingly targets people of color and leaves them the victims of excessive force, false accusation and unfair sentencing. Allowing speech or imagery that depicts these kinds of ideologies puts people of color into a different class, a class below the white man, and allows for mistreatment, discrimination and oppression of one group onto another.

For those who say we should be patient for all the facts to come out, that we shouldn’t rush to conclusions: Tell me how many more Trayvons will be slain before we challenge the institutionalized racism that infects our society? How many more African-American men will die as victims of the system that steals their dignity day after day? The change isn’t going to come from above; it’s going to come from the bottom up, like with the students who fought to restore Trayvon’s name at UT, and the collective voices of those who are rising up to ensure we never have another Emmett Louis Till, Byron Elliott Carter or Trayvon Martin fall victim to the system.

Villaseñor is a Mexican-American studies senior.