istorically, Western imperialists conquered the Third World by, among other methods, taking advantage of the lack of unity in the colonized lands. Africa, Asia and Latin America are each home to greatly diverse peoples, differing not only from continent to continent but also immensely within. Because they often didn't set aside their differences to collectively fight for a common goal, imperialists often played into the differences to their own benefit. Many historians even agree today that much of the ethnic conflict in the world today resulted from imperialism, showing just how severe the consequences of disunity are.
And yet, history seems to be repeating itself in a subtler but still dangerous form.
Of course, we can't entirely blame colonized peoples for not having solidarity. After all, there was no need for a collective identity prior to being conquered by an outside power. Labels such as "Native American," for example, existed only after they suffered a shared experience.
We, as people of color in the United States, don't have that same excuse. We all live and work and go to school among each other, and are in positions that make us perfectly capable of working together. Thing is, we don't.
One doesn't have to go very far to see this firsthand. I see it every day right on my campus, at the University of California, Davis. Students of color face ongoing struggles in a variety of issues, but not enough of them are collaborating, and it's only making their battles all the more difficult to win.
UC Davis is a fairly diverse campus; like most California colleges and universities, no single ethnic group makes up a majority of the student body. A myriad of cultures and communities is represented, some more so than others, but they are present nonetheless. Though this is only my second year at UC Davis, I am disappointed by what I see so far as a lack of coalition among the different groups when issues arise that appear to affect only one or a just a few communities.
Last spring, six individuals put their lives on the line and went on a water-only fast in protest of budget cuts to education that would severely cut outreach programs catering to underrepresented minority communities. (Read more about it at fast4education.org) Five of the six participants were of a Latino/a background, and many of the organizations sponsoring the fast represented Chicano/Latino communities. This made sense, because despite comprising a third of California 's population, Latinos/as remain underrepresented in higher education.
What didn't make sense to me was that those actively supporting the fast by attending rallies and participating in solidarity fasts, among other things, were also largely representative of the Latino/a community. Granted, the backgrounds of the fasters may have discouraged other non-Latino/a people of color from coming out in support of them, but I didn't understand why people couldn't see past that while yes, most of the fasters were Latino/a, they were fighting for something that is a right for all of us-the right to education. By having just marginal representation of a community that is so influential in where we live, our own experiences and interactions are limited. I appreciated their efforts and showed up to rallies and vigils held in support of them, but was disappointed to find that I was usually the only South Asian there.
It is much the same situation for a continuing struggle for the campus service workers. The university's food service employees, who work in the dormitory dining commons and eateries around campus, are employed by the Sodexho Corporation rather than by the university, and receive lower wages, pay higher insurance premiums, and receive no pension compared to their counterparts at the UC Davis Medical Center, who are employed directly by the university and perform essentially the same labor. In addition, the mostly Spanish-speaking workers have been prohibited from speaking their native language on the job site, even during breaks, and there have been cases of harassment that were dismissed without proper investigation.
Students, dismayed at the treatment of employees who provide for them, launched a campaign to fight for economic justice for the Sodexho employees, and once again those active in the campaign tend to be from the Chicano/Latino community. This baffles me once again because, with parents and grandparents who were immigrants, don't we also identify with people wanting to make their lives better and help their families? Everyone deserves fair working conditions, and we should not even have to think twice about if we should involve ourselves in a struggle to ensure this.
Just as harmful as not allying with other communities is allying with the wrong ones, and there was an example of that at UC Davis recently as well. Earlier this year, there were two basically competing efforts to educate others about the situation in Sudan , one of them initiated by Jewish students who are also very aggressive in supporting Israel. Understandably, this upset many other students of color leading a similar effort, since it is rather hypocritical for these Zionist students to say the mass killings in Sudan is wrong while they support Israel doing the same thing to the Palestinians.
Hurtfully, the African and African American Studies department as well as Black Family Week, an institutionalized, university-sponsored cultural awareness program, sponsored events with the Zionist student groups. Now, I realize they may have done it simply because they saw it as an innocent effort to raise awareness and money for Sudan , but it was the principle of this alliance that disappointed many: teaming up with the colonizers, the oppressors when you are a struggling, marginalized minority yourself.
Though I am disappointed by the lack of people of color solidarity, I am not at all discouraged. There are some remarkable individuals at UC Davis who fight for any cause they believe in, regardless of which group or groups it seems to be affect the most. They have inspired me to become even more involved in social justice-oriented issues. When, because of the "controversy" it generated, the Middle Eastern Community Intern position was eliminated at the university's Cross-Cultural Center, the intern for the Asian Pacific Islander Community resigned to show her solidarity. While the position has yet to be reinstated as the struggle is still ongoing, the resignation definitely made a statement that a community's issues shouldn't be ignored just because they seem controversial. If anything, that is all the more reason to address them.
Campus communities are a great place to be because of the exposure to many different kinds of people, an exposure that many experience for the first time ever. Different backgrounds, viewpoints and opinions converge and the differences may seem more obvious than the similarities, but acknowledging what different communities of color share is the first step to collectively achieving our common and individual goals. So college students, attend other communities' events as well as your own, learn about their issues and, if you believe in the cause, fight for them. You'll be surprised at what can be accomplished that way.
Photo 1 Courtesy of http://www.fast4education.org/
Photo 2 Courtesy of