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Tag Archives: UC Berkeley

Racism and confusion

Queens, New York

A poor count by both the police and The New York Times greatly underestimated the “Millions March” that took place in New York on Saturday. At least 50k turned up, although participants who hung around, clapped from the sides, and came out of their houses at night in Brooklyn made even that figure seem too low.

I was there with friends, joining chants and carrying signs. It was almost too peaceful, with the crowd respecting the lame opening up of the streets, one block at a time, as if the protest was less important than Christmas shopping. But the tranquil action was accompanied by the enraged voices of those in the crowd, who didn’t always find catchy ways to express their anger. It wasn’t a poetry contest, it wasn’t a stadium.


All came out well and one must expect follow up actions soon, but this is just the backdrop of my reflection here. On the other side of the country, a place that I can claim to know well, something interesting was happening.

In the middle of the UC Berkeley campus, someone hung and displayed effigies of lynched black victims from decades ago with the hashtag #ICantBreathe. At first, passersby were shocked, especially black students, who felt mocked by a disgusting joke. Uninformed observers shouted: “Racism hits one of the liberal capitals of the country!!” as if racism respects zip codes. Others took care of tearing down the effigies and started enquiring about the possible perpetrators.

An art collective came out (without naming names in their flier) and said the action was an artistic, albeit possibly offensive, attempt to link the past and the present, making sure to underline that racism is as systemic now, as it was then.

The identification of the collective as “queer black and POC artists” did not stop critics. “Black and POC have different histories, they can’t claim to have a common history with the slavery era” is the summary of the common reply on twitter. Defining and detailing the identity of those who dared show this “art installation” on academic soil became the pet peeve of observers behind virtual keyboards. They started classifying, cataloguing, and assigning rights of speech. If you’re such-and-such you can say this, otherwise it’s wrong.

I see racism as a political threat, a choice. You’re not born racist, society makes you one (or not, that’s why it’s a choice). Politically it should be countered and called out every time. I agree with the art collective, racism is systemic and knitting past and present together only helps understand the causality and origin of some actions that can be thought of as isolated.

If an art collective of diverse racial background cannot use powerful, borderline-offensive imagery to portray what racism has done and is doing to America, then I shouldn’t have gone to the March. I’m white, why should I hold up a sign that says “Black Lives Matter”? That should be as illogical as a Latino artist hanging up portraits of lynched victims, in the critics’ eye.

Instead, this is ours, of all the people that take a stand. It’s about your political choice, not about your family tree.

Long live Berkeley, where artists are misunderstood and politics are confused.


#Kony2012 – The Attack of the Doves

Giarre, Italy

Nobody realized, I know, but I was on a Twitter strike. I purposely avoided to access my @BNanalysis account for many days since when I found out that #Kony2012 was trending. I will not link the YouTube video here. It has piled up far too many visualizations. In the news it is referred to as a 8-figures phenomenon. Without even watching it myself, I know exactly what’s in it and whose attention it triggers, and what aim it seeks. Here’s a blogpost which takes from the documentary craze and dwells on the character of those who, from the Left, call for actions. In the title, I called them doves. In life, I refer to them as radikalschik, with Ks and all. I’ve explained the concept in Italian and I will define my view in the English language using a famous American example of these days.

Alliteration and consonance, together with recent memory, bring to mind a Kony-Bokonon comparison. Both are strange characters the western explorer struggles to understand. They commit horrible crimes against human beings, although one only does it in Vonnegut’s words. Aside from that, it was only thanks to a well-produced documentary that the world became aware of the existence of a country named Uganda and that terrible things were happening there. “I was sipping a latte (<- no accent, you Americans!) in a coffeshop, reading the news on my iPad, when I came across this Kony2012 thing. I had to repost/retweet/reblog it!” Many Bayareans surely pronounced similar words, a couple of weeks ago. On my facebook newsfeed the documentary appeared several times with a call for action: “we must do something about this!” However, this might be not only wrong, but even counterproductive for the very invisible children it is trying to advocate for.

Invisible Children, the non-profit (?) that produced the short film on Ugandan child soldiers is headed by Berkeley Alumni, which made the whole story very radikalschik. UC Berkeley is the crib of activism the place where “awareness” wakes up in the morning before spreading out to the entire world. Just adding up the “awareness” of each of the 35K students at Cal, each problem the world faces would be highlighted. However, genuine and “internal” activism at UCB has changed through time, turning into a radikalschik practice: many at Occupy’s general assembly, many filming kids beaten by cops, few, very few, standing up against the status quo. The very fact that a KKK-style “Affirmative Action Bake Sale” was organized in Fall 2011 on Sproul is telling of how the times have changed and how “awareness” is only needed when it yields good grades.

As I said in my other posts, I have many radikalschik friends. It’s not a bad thing to be radikalschik. You can bitch about working conditions at Foxconn in China, while watching the news on your made-in-China (at Foxconn) device. Even I can! I have a blog, I write from a Mac, and I’m generally far away from what I write about. However, I kindly ask radikalschiks to shut up when it comes to “calls for actions”. And my begging is political. It’s unacceptable to ask someone else to take action (by which you mean “military intervention” or any other kind of imperialistic measure) while you sit in Starbucks. There are many issues that trouble my mind when it comes to world affairs: the Aral Sea is disappearing, the Arctic is melting, Palestinians are killed every day, Western Sahara is no man’s land, being colored is still an issue in the US, being a young woman is dangerous because males can harm you in thousands of ways (violence, wage, abortion, housework, marriage…), there is the pressing issue of inequality which is now evident just becaus class issues are exacerbated to a point where the exploitation among human beings becomes daily news. Yet, I do not call Obama on an upside-down phone* and ask him to send drones.

US-born Tom Wolfe is credited for the invention of the term “radical chic” in the 70s, mocking a party hosted by Leonard Bernstein and his wife to raise money for the Black Panthers. His sharpness is going to become a subject of my future studies. What both Wolfe and I are trying to say, with different capacity and success, is that Kony2012 and a party for the Black Panthers are smoking room exercises of the educated burgeoise and have nothing to do with the possible solution of the actual questions at stake. American foreign intervention has harmed every place it has targeted, ever. Just like any other foreign, profit- and interest-oriented venture undertaken by imperialistic powers. During a few screenings that were scheduled in Uganda, locals left half-way through the short film enraged because it was all about a white dad talking to his toddler about how horrible Kony can be in his actions by using child soldiers and killing the opponent’s army of the same young age. Not a single Ugandan was part of the shooting or of the screenplay. Just like no Blacks were invited to Bernstein’s party. “Give us time, we’ll charity the shit out of your problem, sell merchandise, and then come bomb your place so your problem will deflagrate at once.” No, I don’t want the US Congress and the EU Parliament and the NATO meeting rooms to talk about Uganda. They are already dying by themselves (and now everybody knows it), let’s not go on a full-scale operation to grab their oil.

YouTube likes are not the future of democracy, or of diplomacy for that matter. Otherwise we would cite “Manatee Squash” and “Dramatic Look” in our academic papers for the International Relations course. We don’t. And I will never think of social media as a democratic tool at all. You can hide #justice4Trayvon with #JustinBieber, how is that political in any way? Be wise, read the news, read independent news, and stay informed. You don’t want to be surprised when the world discovers Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

On a side note, the news also covered the shameful arrest of the co-founder of Invisible Children. This led to the best commentary ever by Erin Gloria Ryan on Jezebel: “Wasn’t the entire Kony 2012 campaign essentially this white guy masturbating in public?”

*Lately, I’ve been referencing my private life too much… that’s an inside joke only one person will understand. It will cause one smile, so it’s worth it!