It wasn’t enough for the whites of Greek Row to throw summer super-spreader parties that endangered the community as protests for Black lives amid the death of George Floyd occurred mere blocks from them. It wasn’t enough for the whites of Greek Row to ignore public health guidelines nearly a year into the pandemic and throw an alley party the week a COVID-19 variant was detected in our community.
Spring break came, and in typical fashion, my white peers at this university continued to disappoint me with their performative activism and how they followed in the footsteps of their violent white supremacist ancestors –– they travelled to Hawaii and Mexico, endangering the lives of local communities for the sake of their own aesthetic pleasure. They’re not ashamed to post about their colonial pursuits on their feed, either.
A (now former) friend of mine posted an Instagram story of her with a group of white UW Greek life folks taking shots at a restaurant in Mexico, maskless, as a masked server frantically tried to clear off their table.
Beyond the putrid Greek stench that was radiating from the video itself, the post also emitted a clear message to me as a body of color in this university: Even the white people you consider your “friends” in this space, even those who are majoring in the “progressive” departments, are still not to be trusted.
You say you love and respect my voice as an abolitionist and decolonial queer activist of color, but your actions prove you to be cut from the same raggedy cloth as the nasty colonizers I despise for murdering and assimilating my ancestors.
Seattle, and our campus, is considered by most as a “liberal” space, full of white folks open to learning about the cultures and perspectives of marginalized peoples. Maybe this is true through the white gaze, but anyone with the slightest bit of melanin can see the thin shell containing the hollow promises of equity in this university –– it’s all just a smoke screen, and white folks do a good job at hiding behind it.
Just last quarter, I took a seminar on race relations in the United States where we uncovered the racist roots of our oppressive social systems and fleshed out the influence and dominance of whiteness in our country. As per usual, white women in that class continued to take up the space, speaking over voices of color, and colonized conversations on BIPoC experiences by centering themselves in it.
A few of the white women in my class actively led our discussions on topics like opting for community care, implementing restorative justice, and condemning white supremacy. At first glance, people might applaud these white folks for doing the bare minimum, and I will admit, I almost applauded them myself.
However, spring break put me in check. In our last week of class in that seminar, we specifically talked about honoring Indigenous people’s sovereignty and the importance of protecting our communities at the hands of oppressive and violent institutions. A week after that, numerous white women in that class –– including the white woman who led the class conversation on those topics –– hopped on flights to Mexico and Hawaii.
Locals of Hawaii are even calling their acts of tourism a form of terrorism that is endangering their communities, practically begging them to stay away, but whites will continue to do what whites have always done in our history –– create carnage at the expense of minority communities in order to obtain their own selfish desires.
Aliyah Musaliar, a third-year student studying law, societies, & justice and philosophy, was one of the few students of color in this seminar with me who resonated with the anger I felt at the violent actions of our performative peers.
“Seeing my liberal white peers traveling during spring break just impressed onto me that even though I’m not in the School of Drama, students are performing all around me,” Musaliar said. “When their audience is an instructor that is critical, or peers with lived experiences of violence, white liberal students will put on an act for their audience. Then they will retreat back to their white friends, or their families, and then literally retreat in the global south and recreate the same violence they protested against in that given course.”
There’s a grave sense of irony here with these “good whites” –– they attend these social justice classes and display #BLM and #StopAsianHate in their social media bios to absolve them from their racism and proximity to white supremacy, yet voluntarily own a plethora of war criminal and imperialist RBG and Obama stickers. They then study the law to fight for human rights but then actively defy pleas from local communities not to travel to these areas, furthering the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on the community.
“Although vaccines are rolling out all over America, I don’t think it is time to be exploring other places,” Bailey Concepcion, a second-year public health major from Guam who serves as the cultural chair of the UW’s Micronesian Islands Club, said in an email. “Thinking about a place like Hawaii, I know that even before the pandemic, tourists would disrespect the island in many ways. To me, by saying you are in support of minority communities, it does not make sense that you would neglect the locals’ wishes.”
I simply can no longer trust that the white folks around me are truly the anti-racist allies they say they are for this reason.
It isn’t enough to just post an infographic on Black injustices or graphic images of Asian violence occurring in our country on your story. To commit to anti-racism and to support the Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate movements, it is important to commit to a lifelong pursuit of combating white supremacy and our country’s history of violence against BIPoC people. How exactly do these white folks expect to get justice for Black lives or stop Asian hate when they follow the lead of their own ancestors who ignited generations of trauma and the systemic inequities these communities face today?
“I think it is interesting that folks repost infographics when they live [lives] that are counter to the content of those infographics,” Musaliar said. “Traveling and having poor [BIPoC] people serve you after spending your quarter within the comfort of your middle-class peers nodding as you performed care is unsettling to say the least. When white and non-Black [people of color] perform for their classmates, and then act the complete opposite towards the same groups they claim to be [supporting] in their own lives, it just reveals that they were using those groups, and their affiliated knowledge, for their own social and economic mobility … It’s white supremacy 101: Maintain the hierarchy, boost your own wellbeing, and use other people as pawns.”
Although I will never stand down to white supremacy, I can’t say that I am not afraid of it. There’s something sinister about a white person who is unaware of their white supremacy and racism and instead is shrouded by the false guise of their “wokeness” –– they simply can’t see the violence they perpetuate because they learned what “intersectionality” was in a lecture and reside in a “liberal” school like the UW.
Possibly the one thing scarier than an actively aware white supremacist is a white person with a diversity pamphlet in one hand who is unaware of their role in upholding white supremacy in their own personal life.
“As a femme of color, I have witnessed white women and femmes the most participate in this performance,” Musaliar said. “This is why academia is particularly harmful, because it steals the models and language of Black and Brown people to understand race, teaches it to white folks, and then actively denies the original innovators access.”
In a previous article I wrote about whiteness in educational settings, someone commented, “You expect your white peers to be self-aware … This is too high of an expectation ... Think smaller, and you will be much happier. Anticipate that your peers are probably not going to be completely on board with you.”
It’s violating when I read comments like these, when I continue to see Greek life harm the community and the UW mirror our country’s inability to punish white violence, and when I see the white folks everyone forces me to believe are “good” proudly share their colonial spring break pursuits on my feed.
White folks can be as violent as they’d like, but if I dare say anything about it, it’s suddenly on me to reassess my expectations of their white supremacy –– a sentiment echoing how my Indigenous ancestors were subjugated to believe their erasure and colonial domination was their own doing as “savage” beings.
I’m tired of being gaslit about my distrust in the white folks around me, and although I disapprove of my colonizer peers for their spring break plans, at least I now have a reminder of who and what I must fight against to achieve anti-racism in my communities. Just like my ancestors, I will take note of colonial white supremacist forces pushing against the collective healing and liberation of me and my community, and I am not afraid to stoke the fires that I’ll ignite on my own to burn white supremacy to the ground.
Reach Opinion Editor Andre Lawes Menchavez at email@example.com. Twitter: @itsjustdrey
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