Part 2: “Rocking the Boat” My experience with the KKK and white supremacy – (Diary of a Baba)
Posted on February 12, 2018
Trigger warning: Recording of racial epithets in a voicemail targeting me and other Black, Latinx, Asian, Pacific Islanders and queer folks.
After high school, I entered college at UC San Diego in 1994 as a pretty righteous Asian, a Bay Area Asian. I thought I “overcame” racism and discrimination by proving the racists wrong. I immediately got involved in politics. I thought I was done; but in reality my journey was just beginning.
There is a lot to say about San Diego and I do it here. From being a conservative military and border town to Pete Wilson former mayor running for and becoming governor, San Diego was not a place for righteous Asians. My heart was crushed so many times here and yet my experiences also lit a fire in my belly — a fire that has never been extinguished.
1995 was the year that University of California Regent, Ward Connerly, proposed the elimination affirmative action in the UC system. The campus climate was divided among whites and people of color. You could cut the tension with a knife.
As a Chinese and Asian American, I remember feeling very torn and out-of-place. I believed that didn’t get into certain schools because of affirmative action but I also didn’t agree with the racist things the white folks were saying. I also remember seeing other progressive Chinese (with long hair) that helped me understand the importance of affirmative action. Still, there were times I felt I was “betraying” my people.
That year, we formed the “No Retreat!” a coalition of students of color committed to defend affirmative action — also the name of a very popular sticker, some of you know what I’m talking about.
By March 1996, we had escalated from student conferences and educational forums to protesting Regent Davies at his office to distrupting UC Regents meetings. This was a statewide movement and it was time to plan our first rally, march and direct action — in La Jolla.
The coalition wanted to prioritize people who did not speak at a rally before. That was me and I was nervous. I said my piece and it was pretty short and I was the only Chinese speaker.
That day was one of the most inspiring days of my life. We had a rally and march of over 700 people and shutdown a major intersection right outside of UCSD for over an hour. 18 activists (called the “UCSD 18”), some of my closest friends, got arrested.
The tiny city of La Jolla was rattled.
When I got home a message was left on my answering machine, here’s what it said:
Trigger warning, click below:
BREATHE. This recording is always hard to listen to.
It was not clear if he was a member of the KKK, though Fallbrook, the home of the former Grand Wizard of the KKK, was not too far. Or could he be drunk or was a college professor, how else did he get my campus phone number? Many, including the administration, feared for my safety but, to me, it was all too familiar. Just like in high school, I was “supposed” to play my position for white supremacy but instead I decided to rock the boat and play for the “other team.
Again, I didn’t get angry, I wanted to get even and now I had proof. I began a crusade to prove that white supremacy was alive and well! Every meeting, every conference, every meal with people… I’d play the tape. I’d played that message over and over again.
I learned to agitate and organize collectively but deep down inside, a darkness overcame me. I was rocking the boat just to rock the boat.
“I learned to agitate and organize collectively but deep down inside, a darkness overcame me. I was rocking the boat just to rock the boat.”
I was in student government by this time. I became a vocal critic of the National Review, a campus publication that featured an ad that appeared to have Klansmen reaching out to a poor white man. Later it was explained that they were Spanish conquistadors. The editors were two Vietnamese women who also led the Republican Club. They called me out for being a typical east Asian “liberal” for supporting Blacks and Latinos, another story for another day. And just for kicks, I opposed a student government resolution for UCSD pushed by the fraternities to become a Division II football team.
I was angry, judgmental, and resentful (still righteous) almost all the time.
On my last day living on campus that year, some people tee peed the activity room in the quad where we all lived. In big chalk letters someone wrote… “FUCK ALEX TOM, WE WANT A FOOTBALL TEAM.”
Take away: In all these incidents, it was never just white people, I remember some Asians and other folks of color. White supremacy sees no color; it is a system that exists to maintain the power structure of whiteness and white people.
“White supremacy sees no color; it is a system that exists to maintain the power structure of whiteness and white people.”
You can tell why I became a martyr and why I write about it. I really thought it was about me. It led to a journey of transformation and recklessness.
At the time of writing this, many of you have started sharing your stories of white supremacy. Many of you have also been shocked that this hatred existed as late as the 1990s. In part 3, I will dive into my moments of reconciliation and path to healing but not forgetting. I have many to thank for their guidance, patience, and support <3
NOTE: This was a long time ago and many were part of this movement. Please feel free to comment here or contact me directly if I forgot some key details. This was not meant to be a historical account.