Does having a personal stake in ending racism matter? What issues arise when we self-identify as allies?
These were questions asked and discussed at the “Solidarity Not Charity” meeting of Students for Anti-Racist Action.
Sophomore Emma Bigongiari, lead officer and founding member of Students for Anti-Racist Action, said the idea for the club came after the 2015 incident regarding racist comments on Yik Yak. These comments were directed toward the Associated Students president at the time and received coverage by national media.
The main suggestion Bigongiari heard from students of color after the incident was for white students to organize and take action. She and some friends decided to organize the club, which began to meet fall quarter of 2016.
Students for Anti-Racist Action is currently focused on working with the Ethnic Student Center and creating dialogue about the role of white people in anti-racist action.
The club has held meetings discussing the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access pipeline, cultural appropriation and post-election actions.
Bigongiari said club meeting attendance increased dramatically after the presidential election.
“It was exciting but also a little frustrating because there was definitely a feeling of, ‘Where have you all been and why do we have to wait until tragedy strikes in order to care?’” she said.
The club is planning to host discussions this quarter about state violence against people of color, gentrification and activist roles for white people.
Bigongiari said that while the group is run by and focused on white students, meetings are open to all identities.
“I want students of color to know we are very open to feedback and critiques,” Bigongiari said. “We believe everyone’s liberation is tied, and so if there is work that a student of color or an organization of students of color feel needs to be done on campus, we would love to take that on.”
Bigongiari said that white supremacy in the community is still a problem.
“I think in Bellingham we often like to think of ourselves as extremely progressive and maybe even post-racial, but the reality is that there is still patriarchy, there is still white supremacy, there is still sexism and heteronormativity — all types of oppression on our campus,” Bigongiari said.
Junior Griffin Crisp said the club is “a space [where] white students can caucus in order to decolonize their minds and start decolonizing the institution in which they are going to school.”
“It is important because as white students we need to be constantly in the process of trying to dismantle systems of oppression and using our privilege to do that is really the only way we can,” Crisp said.
Junior Trisha Patterson said she attends club meetings to become more involved and educated in anti-racist work.
“The point of this club is to help educate and act in solidarity with people of color on campus and in the community. I’m here to learn a little bit more about how I can help,” Patterson said. “It’s a space where white people can explain and unpack white supremacy and racism, without having to put that emotional labor onto people of color.”