Sign our statement to express your solidarity with Jason here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1rzlEgKoK32jx6zzTGf66bj6NT8RBcHY8b3POggxJTRU/edit?usp=sharing.
In the last week, a Black student has been targeted by and subject to not only intense national scrutiny but vilification by the alt-right, racist press. Jason Osamede Okundaye, president of the CUSU BME Campaign and an outspoken advocate for the welfare of people of colour at Cambridge, particularly Black and queer students, has been at the receiving end of racist slurs and insults as well as rape and death threats for tweets that were willfully taken out of context. Unfortunately, this incident points to a broader historical trend of the violent denigration of student activists of colour in the public eye.
The initial controversy was instigated by Katie Hopkins, when she quoted Jason’s tweet: “ALL white people are racist. White middle class, white working class, white men, white women, white gays, white children they can all geddit” as being “the reaction of Cambridge Uni BME head to Dalston riots”. Not only did Hopkins willfully ignore Jason’s follow up tweets in which he clarified that what he meant was that racism is endemic to society regardless of one’s individual background, she also decontextualized this particular tweet, conflating it with Jason’s other tweets in support of the Dalston protests and of the fight for justice against police brutality.
Hopkins, with her 804,000 Twitter followers and infamy as a media commentator, thus set her following on Jason. Her tweet was uncritically picked up by newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail, which targeted Jason’s social media profiles and revealed details about his life, violating his privacy and putting him in personal danger. It is worth noting that Hopkins attained her platform through a slew of racist statements which included a comparison of migrants to “cockroaches” – it is no wonder that Jason has also faced a barrage of racially-charged insults and threats in addition to intense media scrutiny.
That Cambridge University responded to this incident with the promise to “look into the matter and take appropriate action” is a troubling indication of their priorities. At least one previous incident involving a Cambridge student has been reported widely by the national press. Said student was recorded using racial slurs and other offensive language, yet the university gave no substantial public statement announcing their intention to investigate the incident and take appropriate action. Similarly, Jason has received no support from Cambridge University in the face of the racially charged abuse that he has been subjected to online. Thus the message sent by the university’s response is that the welfare of BME students is not a priority. We hope that the university will do its due diligence in protecting and ensuring Jason’s well-being, as well as in supporting his right to freedom of speech.
As members of FLY, the university’s network for women and non-binary people of colour, we stand in solidarity with Jason and thank him for all that he has already done and is continuing to do for BME people, at the expense of his own emotional labour and threats to his and his family’s well-being. We also stand in solidarity with all other students of colour, particularly women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, who are active in organizing with liberation campaigns in institutions of higher education to widen access and dismantle oppressive structures.
It is our hope that other members of the Cambridge community, regardless of background, will sign this letter in support of Jason and the meaningful work that he and countless other student activists of colour tirelessly engage on a day to day basis.
FLY COMMITTEE 2017-18