Navigating white spaces in Humboldt County as a person of color

By Alyssa Anaya
Flapjack staff

During her first semester at HSU, Vanessa Cota, a 20-year-old political science major, had a frightening encounter at Don’s Donuts in downtown Arcata.

“A guy approached me and asked where I was from and said SoCal and kept telling me to go back where I came from,” she said. “I lost sense of what I was going to do. He threw a glass bottle at my feet.”

Cota’s story is not an isolated incident. Racism is alive and well in Humboldt County, where 77.1% of the population are white, 17.6% are Latinx, and 13.3% are black or African American. This leaves people of color to navigate white spaces, and that is a space that feels not always safe for minorities.

At last week’s Arcata City Council meeting, only a few days after the fatal stabbing of Josiah Lawson, a 19-year-old HSU student and leader of Brothers United, racism in the county was brought up for discussion.

“We cannot continue to ignore the systemic and cultural racism that exists in our community,” said Arcata’s vice-mayor Sofia Pereira. “While we can say we’ve been working on issues of equity in our community, we as a community failed [murder victim] Josiah [Lawson] and other students of color, who have stated over and over that they do not feel safe and welcomed here.”

HSU sociology lecturer Lora Bristow defines racism as simply the systematic oppression of a group based on “what we call” race.

“[This] advantages the dominant group (white folks in the U.S.) and disadvantages and harms other groups,” Bristow said. “ It has multiple levels–individual, ideological and cultural, and institutional, and can be overt/explicit or covert/subtle/even unconscious.”

In Arcata, a college town, racism here isn’t so avert, said 23-year-old Sociology major Danielle Dickerson.

“Arcata is a small town that is becoming more diverse and that makes some white folks uncomfortable,” Dickerson said. “It’s whether or not they are willing to accept that.”

Dickerson also brought attention to HSU’s graduation pledge and how it addresses a so called social and environmental justice.

“For who? Where do people of color lie in the discussion?” she said. “It’s bleaching. Watered down. Paradoxical.”

Dickerson said that language is very problematic.

“There needs to be a change of behavior,” she said. “White people need to be held responsible.”

As Bristow explained, racism can be both subtle and even unconscious. Cota said that she sometimes feels that her professors and colleagues come off as microaggressive.

“Sometimes I will say something and it’s kind of brushed off,” Cota said. “But when a white student says almost the same thing, everyone praises it.”

Racism is not just about minorities, it also calls attention to white folks.

“Racism is immense in its effect, in all layers of our lives.  For people of color, it creates diminished life chances, while it simultaneously increases the life chances of white folks.  Although as a system of power it seeks to dehumanize folks of color, I think it dehumanizes white folks.” said Bristow. “ How can we be good in our souls if we hate others, if we benefit from harm that is done to others and do not work to end that harm?”

Of course, there is no all ending, over night, happy ending when it comes to something as heavy as racism. However, there are ways that it can be combatted.

“There needs to be more accountability, safer spaces, and actually acknowledging gender, and race. Not leaving anyone out of decision making,” Dickerson said. “We need to redefine ally. You can’t just simply agree with the ideologies, you need to be action oriented. People are allies in theory, but they need to put that into praxis,” said Dickerson. “When you have a platform you need to use it.”

“We just had that march for science and it was full of white people. After the recent passing of Josiah [Lawson] we did not see many of these “allies.” They came to the vigils but didn’t show up to the courthouse to show support. Where are the allies?”

Cota agreed and added, “White folks need to not be so defensive. It happened, accept it. Ask what you can do to fix it. Check other white people. It is exhausting being a person of color and trying to educate white people who don’t want to listen to me.”

“At the individual level, we need to have conversations with each other–and white folks need to really listen to people of color.  White folks need to talk with other white folks, to work towards a collective anti-racist white identity,” said Bristow. “At the ideological/cultural level, we need to really examine ideas, images, beliefs–everything–and question where they come from, how they are connected with racism as a system of power.”

Racism has been a system structured at the roots of this nation and it shows at the institutional level.

“We need to see how racism may be operating in our schools, political groups, churches, workplaces, all the social institutions we interact with in our lives,” said Bristow.  “And then work for policies and practices that support racial justice. We need to do the same at the national and global level.”



HSU Muslim student speaks out on travel bans, discrimination

By Alyssa Anaya
Flapjack staff

Moussa Sy, a 21-year-old environmental science major at HSU is on a scholarship. He spends a lot of his time in the library studying or working at his on campus job. He gets taxes taken out of his paycheck like every American does. He plays sports for HSU. He is also Muslim.

Sy came from Mali almost eight years ago. Sy is a student who has personally felt the impact of the travel ban because of his religion. Sy recalls on the day he first heard of the travel ban, notoriously known as the Muslim ban.

“Deep inside I felt like something was taken from me,” Sy says. “Like I’ve been violated. I felt shame.”

As a black Muslim in America with this political climate, it can be a scary time. There is an unfortunate struggle that many Americans will never have to face that those affected by immigration have to deal with. The visa Sy has only gives him three months to find a job in relations to his major after he graduates. Otherwise, he will have to go back to his country. This isn’t an easy task. From a poll in 2015 conducted by AfterCollege, only 14 percent of college graduates had jobs lined up after graduation.

“Being black and Muslim, I have to be better than the average,” says Sy. “Everything is against me.”

Sy agrees that immigration is a problem for every nation and every nation has their rights to deal with it however they believe. But he also identifies a problem with the labelling and the way recent immigration laws seem to target very specific groups of people.

“Jobs immigrants take are jobs that Americans won’t take,” says Sy. “You can’t insult honest people. Calling them illegal. That name kills me.”

Sy also wants there to be a better understanding of the reasons why so many people from other countries come to America. Specifically those countries targeted by the travel ban. He believes that Americans have to look at both sides. He talks about how there are children starving and dying that do not necessarily want to leave everything behind, but they want to be away. They want opportunity and knowledge. He also addressed just how mean some people can be and those that don’t want immigrants to succeed.

“You learn from it,” Sy says. “Become stronger. The best way to get back at them is to succeed. Get your education. Nobody can take my education from me.”

Sy remains hopeful and has a strong sense of pride towards his accomplishments. His mindset reminds him that despite his background and beliefs, he will overcome.

“Skin doesn’t matter,” Sy says. “Diversity is the best thing ever. Without diversity there is nothing.”

Rayleen Alafa, 20-year-old sociology major at HSU, says that although she is not Muslim herself she has seen the discrimination her grandmother faced.

“My grandma has been called names and denied service whenever she’s been in other states,” Alafa says. “She was even detained and questioned once. They asked her what her religion was. She told me how scared she was and she didn’t understand why she had to be questioned because she was the only one who was pulled aside.”

Alafa said that there is a very flawed approach to immigration in America. She agrees with Sy and the way he mentioned education as a way to achieve. She said that the very least people can do is become educated and welcoming towards cultures that aren’t necessarily like them.

“People have created these ideas of what immigrants are,” Alafa says. “We hear words like lazy, rapists, terrorists, and extremists. We as a whole, a unit, need to educate ourselves and others.”

She says she likes to look at it all with a sociological approach and that we have to understand why people think the way they do.

“It’s important to remember people have been raised a particular way,” says Alafa. “We have to help people unlearn their internal racism and unnecessary fears.”

Sy discussed education and how important it is in order to succeed. Especially as a minority. Thomas Ramos, a 19-year-old Arcata native agrees. He believes that it is this generation’s job to educate future generations in order to create a better future for this generation.

“We as a collective need to educate people. We need to debunk his [Trump’s] misogynistic and xenophobic ideologies and make them realize women and minority groups are people too.” Ramos says a lot of these mindsets that ignite fear of immigrants comes from ignorance.

“When I would see the negative praise on social media, I would get angry. However, I realize that these people believe these things because they are ignorant and they were raised believing these things.”

Ramos also believes that there has to be strong solidarity among all minorities, not just those affected by immigration laws and travel bans.

“Because so many communities are being affected we can all stand in solidarity with one another and fight together,” says Ramos. “I believe intersectionality will be our ticket to freedom.”

Humboldt County’s ready for roller derby season

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By Alyssa Anaya
Flapjack staff

Humboldt Roller Derby hosted a scrimmage on Thursday, Feb. 9, at the Redwood Fairgrounds in Eureka with the game kicking off with a whistle at 7:30 p.m.. The team is made of over 30 girls and is then separated into two smaller teams. The team members all have nicknames such as Harley San Quentin, Cold Shoulder, Mad Plow, Psycho Ward, Zombie Stardust and Luna Madblood.

Humboldt Roller Derby has been happening for 10 years now. It has become increasingly more popular than it has ever been before.

What exactly is roller derby? It is essentially two teams of roller skaters that each have a “jammer” signified by a star on her helmet cover (called a helmet panty). This jammer tries to skate past the opposing team as many times as they possibly can within a “jam.” A jam is a play that lasts up to two minutes. Which may sound relatively easy. If it weren’t for the opposing team creating walls and pushing the jammer to prevent them from passing.

Robert Recinos, 19-year-old sociology major at HSU, said that he had never been to a roller derby game before.

“I am still trying to understand what all the rules are,” Recinos said. “The way they play is what keeps me interested though.”

Before the game began, the girls did exercises for roughly 30 minutes. These exercises involved pushing into each other until someone falls, jumping up, then touching the floor with their fingertips and skating backwards.

Thirty-four-year-old massage therapist Tim Ward from Rio Dell said that the crowds have become bigger.

“Apparently it has always been a big thing but there is usually a certain kind of crowd that comes out to it,” said Ward. “Seems we are starting to get more people.”

Throughout the game girls were falling down, being pushed out of bounds and on the floor. At the same time there was the jammer skating as fast and as swift as possible to get ahead. One of the girls threw another down by thrusting her hip toward her.

“Nice hip check,” Ward said, “They’re out for blood tonight.”

Business major Abraham Rivera, 19, said he would be attending the next home game.

“All of them play hard,” Rivera said. “You can tell they love the game. It makes it more entertaining to watch.

Humboldt Roller Derby will be hosting their next game on Feb. 18 at 6 p.m. at the Redwood Fairgrounds in Eureka. The game will also be broadcasted live on KXGO 94.1. More information regarding their game schedule, events and how to join or volunteer  can be found online at