Dear Black Bruins,
I’m sorry for the “Kanye Western” party thrown by campus groups this week, and since they won’t write you a letter, I will.
It was wrong, offensive and – to most of us – completely unacceptable. Our school must learn from this and ensure that it never happens again. It makes sense that you are upset, and something needs to be done. But change at large and in entrenched institutions is difficult, and as you lead the change that must inevitably come, you must know that however much it may sometimes seem like it, you are not alone.
As a white student, when you tell me something is offensive, insensitive, racist or demeaning to your culture or ethnicity, I’m going to take your word for it. What I’m not going to do is make excuses for or otherwise defend the actions of the perpetrators, or attempt to invalidate your feelings and experiences as black students. I’m a white man and I don’t know what it’s like to be black on campus, so I’m not going to tell black people on campus how to feel.
As a member of the Greek community, I hear a lot of stupid ideas circulated – no more, I would say, than in any other student organization, but stupid nonetheless. The “Kanye Western” party was a stupid idea, and someone in the group should have said so before it ever happened. What took place this week is unacceptable, plain and simple, and until more people like me (white and Greek) realize it and do something about it, it will happen again and again.
But there’s hope yet. By speaking out and sharing your stories, you are building a better campus and community for generations of underrepresented students to come. I hope to support that mission, and I call on my friends in the Greek community to do the same – and stop making so many excuses.
We need to realize that students are not protesting over a party, they’re protesting the racial undercurrent that is rooted in everything that happens here, from who gets into the school to who graduates from it.
I know racism exists on campus because I’ve witnessed it, here at UCLA, for the first time in my life. At a Friday night party of a campus club last year, the charge was $10 at the door. Not inclined to pay, I stepped to the side and waited for a friend. As a group of about 10 black males made their way up the steps, the white club member at the door turned to his white friends and said with a smile, “Watch this.” Twenty dollars a person, he told them – twice what he had just asked of my white friends and me. They declined and walked away and the guys at the door laughed. White and Asian students came up after and, still laughing, they charged them $10.
I will never forget the weight of my sadness and disappointment in that moment. Like many of you, I once thought, “Finally, here at UCLA, I will be surrounded by educated and compassionate people who value equality and are committed to justice.” But, even here – with citations, world rankings and accolades – racism is alive and well, Kanye party or no Kanye party. It will never be enough, but I wanted you to know that, for whatever it’s worth, I’m sorry.
Kelly is a fourth-year political science student.