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BC Ignites Speech: Matthew Alonsozana

A&S '13

Published: Friday, September 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

The following speech was given by Matthew Alonsozana, A&S '14, at BC Ignites on Monday, Sept. 24, 2012.  It has been edited for formatting purposes only.

Now on this single campus, there are two perspectives in regard to race. Distinctly different and often opposing, the issue of race is seen as a non-issue for many non-AHANA students and the issue for many AHANA students. Volatile as this is, we struggle to confront this status quo out loud. How did this happen? And to paraphrase a certain Mr. Lupe Fiasco, how did it get so loud inside our heads with the words we never said? Talkative though we seem, we are for the most part, mum on the topic of race and certainly silent about racism, be it within the confines of this campus or our larger society.

Perhaps it is to be expected. Our millenial generation lives in circumstances where the mere mentioning of race is a surefire way of finding yourself at the isolated end of a dining table, or being hidden from Fadebook newsfeeds. Our society as a whole finds the topics of race and racism to be wholly undesirable. And on a campus where the operative description is "nice." we sacrifice true engagement and dialogue to preserve a veneer that everything is alright.

At a University driven by an outspoken concern for justice, our inability to truly engage each other on these issues is lackluster compared to past generations who directly struggled against the ugliest elements of racial oppression. We have lost touch with the struggles and successes of the past.

We are the children of those who carved the principles of equality and justice into the moral bedrock of this country during the Civil Rights movement. We are the students of a University whose existence for the past 150 years testifies to the crusade against the anti-Irish Catholic discrimination in this country that once ran so deep that it was commonplace to see that "Irish need not apply." Compared with these past examples, why is our climate one of pained silence? Before we can truly commit ourselves to on-campus climate change, we must first identify the problem.

The problem, acutely manifested here at BC, is that we are so detached from such trials and tribulations against racism that we are either unable or refuse to talk about it. Some of our students have treated racism in the abstract, confined to textbooks. Many of our students come from less diverse settings. Most of us have no experience with it. And yet, for many of us, our own personal past drives us to rally against even a hint of racism. Locked in spheres of our own doing, we hardly ever discuss our differences. We have no context for understanding our present, thus we are unable to respond to it. However, let me assure you that this is a real problem that every BC student must have an interest in solving together.

Our failure to engage causes the ugly pot of racial tensions to boil over easily and with the utmost intensity. We have buried these topics so much that we have allowed it to fester deep within us. And with even the slightest spark of provocation, that accumulated tinder has the potential to consume the Heights.

Look no further than our recent past. A few years ago an opinion piece describing Asian groups as "ethnic packs" caused an unprecedented uproar. And just last year, incidences of assault, that at first seemed racially motivated, threatened to rent the fabric of this University. Being one of those who vocally blazoned my opinion and castigated others before knowing the facts, I am grateful for the counsel of cooler and more discerning heads, and to this day, I am remorseful for the darker passions I both fell to and helped to inflame. Unwittingly, our silence is creating an atmosphere where even the mere mentioning of racism causes people to bristle.

We need not dark and furtive passions, but bright and frank discussion. I hope that we as a community will be able to discern the various forms of racial discrimination. Of course, it is a harder task since we now live in an era where some of the worst elements of structural and institutional racism have been rooted out. Yet, racism has by no means disappeared. In the U.S. as in BC, it has become harder to pin down because it has become quieter while still remaining harmful.

Our campus community exhibits elements of this modern, quiet racism. We have allowed "ethnocentrism" to become an expected norm in the community. We oppress by limiting self-expression. As an example, we allow ethnocentrism to rear its ugly head when we solely expect Asians to hang out with other Asians. How can we say that we appreciate the expression of every member of this community when we are not even in a position to marvel at it in the first place?

Indeed, this is a quagmire that I myself experience. In no flowery terms, pangs of guilt and indecision arise as I wonder if I have spent enough time with my AHANA and non-AHANA friends. But why am I even dividing my friends as such? Ethnocentrism has created two communities that we know exist but do not do enough to bridge. Ethnocentrism funnels people into social groups based on race. These widely held expectations create self-enforcing bubbles that prevent full engagement into the community. It needs to be addressed from both sides- and by students first, not the administration.

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