By Esther Liu
It’s not hate but fear that leads humans to treat each other terribly, says human rights activist Ericka Huggins, a former Black Panther Leader and educator who spoke recently at UC Santa Barbara’s Campbell Hall.
“Humans act based on their fear of not having control,” explained Huggins. “Almost all isms: sexism, racism, classism, homophobia - all of them are not based on hatred. All of them look hateful but are based on fear, which is an irrational emotion for all of us to have.”
In honor of Black History Month, Huggins spoke in the opening event of the Black Student Union’s annual two-day series Heart and Soul Case. In her talk, “An Evening with Ericka Huggins: Identity, Activism, and Change,” the activist urged students to step out of the boxes society places them in.
“Whatever you were told about yourself and about others, if it doesn’t hold up as fully human, you can let go of it,” she said. “The universe won’t dissolve into the cosmos if we let go of some old, tired, whatever-it-is. But it’s important that we begin, because freedom is an inside job.”
Alexandra Genesee, a UCSB Philosophy student double majoring in Black Studies, recounted Huggins’ past, from serving time for her Black Panther activities to raising awareness within the black community. “Her life experiences have enabled her to speak personally and eloquently on issues relating to the physical and emotional well-being of Black women and children,” Genessee said.
As a queer African American women, Huggins called upon students to understand why humans treat each other poorly. She asked audience members to shout out reasons why people oppress others, and received answers that included “power,” “hierarchy,” and “control.”
Recognizing the reason for hate in this world is important to understanding humanity, she said. “This awareness is a higher awareness of humanity that is beyond all these boundaries that been created by people long gone - centuries gone,” she said. “These are structural inequities, and race and gender are constructs.”
At the end of her prepared talk, Huggins left the podium and sat on the edge of the stage to take questions from the audience. The room burst into warm chatter and a strong community bond was established among those in the Campbell Hall.
When a student asked how to foster stronger, synergistic efforts for campus organizations, Huggins stressed coalition building with different communities. Several years ago, The Black Panther Party formed a coalition against infant mortality with the Third World Alliance in Oakland, because Highland Hospital did not have enough obstetrician-gynecologists on staff. The coalition attended the county hearing and demanded action.
“We knew there was strength in numbers. And when your voice is not heard and your face in all of its beauty is not seen, you need people,” she said. “We formed coalitions because when we wanted there to be change. We wanted our voices to be heard.” The groups managed to get staff changes at Highland Hospital. “That is activism,” Huggins declared.
After the event, audience members rushed to the front of the stage to meet Huggins. Zion Solomon, a second year History of Public Policy major and Religious Studies minor, was ignited by the talk. “Inspired. Excited. And Engaged,” Solomon said. “[Huggins’] ability to be compassionate despite some of the terrible things that happened during her time as a Black Panther was incredibly inspirational.”
Huggins said the way to deal with threatening people or situations is to remember that there is a dominant paradigm that people operate within. “It’s a very small, structured, dominant paradigm. None of us really fit, and yet we’re expected to,” she said. “So, if you’re feeling alone and lonely, dismissed, unheard or unseen, you can be your own best friend and champion.”
Esther Liu is a second-year student at UC Santa Barbara, double majoring in Communication and Music Studies. She covered this news event for her Writing Program course, Journalism for Web and Social Media.