It was recently announced that we may soon have two new representative positions on UMSU Council. First up is the inner city representative, who will make sure that the needs of students at our inner-city campus are met. This representative would serve a clearly defined role and this position makes perfect sense.
The second position is a bit more controversial. This position is called the racialized student representative and was proposed by U of M student Sean Gee. In explaining his support for the new position, Gee stated: “I’ve always been a believer in the idea that exclusion is one of the greatest forms of oppression. I realized that racialized people didn’t have a representative on council, so exclusion from council was a clear form of oppression there.”
I have a few issues with the above statement. To begin with, it is factually incorrect to state that people of any racial background are excluded from UMSU council. There are no racial barriers to any positions on UMSU council and anyone who attends a council meeting can attest to the racial diversity of our representatives.
I also have to disagree with Gee’s assertion that there is “oppression” on UMSU council. If there are no barriers to students being eligible to serve on UMSU council, how can there be oppression? It is important not to throw around loaded terms when the facts don’t match.
One of the first things that came to my mind when I heard this position announced was whether “racialized representative” was code for “a representative for everyone except white people.” If this is indeed the case, then this position is a form of discrimination and makes a mockery of every honest attempt to reduce racism and improve our world. If this is not the case, if the position is indeed open to everyone, then it would simply create a redundant representative on UMSU council, since we already have five UMSU execs that have a mandate to represent the entire student body. Additionally, we already have an international students rep who represents the broad diversity on campus.
There is another problem with this position. How can one person represent everyone who counts as racialized? Of course, this assumes we can actually define the term, a clear definition of which has yet to be provided by its supporters. U of M professor Jared Wesley has alluded to the problems in defining this position and his thoughts are worth noting. The simple fact is that this position has not been defined and any definition that excludes anyone, of any racial background, would be a cruel irony for a position meant to reduce racism.
My father is from Trinidad and is of Spanish and African descent. My mother was born in Canada, and her ethnic background is Italian and British. In the eyes of those who support this position, I would probably qualify to be the racialized rep. That still doesn’t mean I think this position makes any sense.
However, what if I was of fully European descent? Would I have any less right to comment on the creation of this position? Should anyone who disagrees with this position really have to justify themselves? In speaking with many of my friends from a European background, I have heard from a fair number of them that they are afraid of speaking out against this position, since they believe they will be attacked and labelled as a racist for sharing their opinions. No student, regardless of their background, should be afraid to speak out. Discrimination never justifies further discrimination.
Political correctness has its place. Respect for differences is important. But at some point we must draw the line on dividing each other up into different groups. There are times when political correctness borders on becoming a farce. This is one of those times. If you oppose the creation of a racialized rep, it is essential that you speak out and make your voice heard. You’re your opinion is important and it deserves to be heard.
If this position is created and we are forced to compete to define how “racialized” we are, all we will achieve is the racial division of our campus. We would go backwards to the attitude of “separate but equal.” Racial division has no place in our time.
Martin Luther King didn’t say he wanted a world where his children would be judged by their race. He said he wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character. Here at the U of M, in the year 2011, we are dangerously close to creating a position that will judge people by their race, not their character. We must do whatever is necessary to stop this before it is too late.
Spencer Fernando is the International Comment Coordinator for the Manitoban.