On the weekend of Saturday 30th and Sunday 31st May 2015, NUS (National Union of Students) Black Students' Conference was held at Horwood House in Milton Keynes, and for the first time in my life, I felt ashamed to be black. I was embarrassed and I was upset. I couldn't even bring myself to attend day two of the farce - so instead, I went home, to reality.
I would often hear stories from people that have attended events like this in the past - but experiencing it first-hand made it clearer to me more than ever that the 'black students' movement' is broken. It does not stand for equality and it certainly does not stand for the greater good. It is a drastically misinformed and hypocritical movement, stuck in the past and fuelled with unnecessary anger.
At the start of proceedings, the Black Students' Officer led the delegates, observers and guests on a chant - whilst we all stood, well dressed, in a conference room at a stunning 104-year-old mansion -which ended with the line "we have nothing to lose but our chains". Not once, not twice, but three times. The only thing chaining me down is the misguided activists that claim to represent me. I do not choose to hold myself back and I have the belief in myself that I can achieve great things. I believe this because of who I am and how hard I work, not because I am black and therefore have to try harder to overcome discrimination, nor because someone is doing me a favour. How dare we so blatantly insult our ancestors, to our advantage, by quoting the chains that tarnished the world for centuries?
The conference continued down this path.
I was preached to that "white supremacy" must be overcome. I was told that our education must be "decolonised of white privilege". I was commanded to remember that "every day you're at university, remember you're in a war zone". I was persistently reminded of the 'black lives matter' campaign - yes they do, but so do all lives. Tackling xenophobia is crucial; however we cannot do that if the movement and basis of the conference is xenophobic.
It was not long before the conference began trending nationally (#NUSBlack15), which of course then triggered external involvement. Before long, the hashtag was equally shared between those on the conference floor, and those that were quickly given the title of "trolls".
Those on the conference floor would tell others to ignore the trolls; they apparently didn't have the right to comment and absolutely everything they said was absurd and insulting. In actuality, I welcomed reading what the "trolls" had to say, because finally, I was reminded that I wasn't alone, I wasn't thinking irrationally, and I wasn't the only person that thought that the entire premise of a 'Black Students' Conference' was nonsensical. If a "troll" wasn't saying something entirely accurate, they were mocking the conference instead.
#nusblack15 are not addressing today's race relations problems. They're stuck in the past and in the politics of envy. Waste of money.— Leonardo Carella (@leonardocarella) May 30, 2015
#nusblack15 how are people allowed to get away with such open racism just because it's against white people? Imagine the outrage of NUSWhite— K Warren (@KWarren365) May 30, 2015
Is it not a bit racist to have segregated conferences? #NUSBlack15— Tom (@plumsteadtom) May 30, 2015
#nusblack15 you thrive in an environment that tolerates your intolerance of others— Alan branock (@vegas870) May 30, 2015
#NusBlack15 wow the hatred and racism thrives. This is what's wrong with humanity.— FreedomFairness (@luizap1) May 30, 2015
Let's demand equality & opportunity through racial demonisation & sectarianism!!! #nusblack15— Sean Haughton (@SeanHaughton) May 30, 2015
Racism exists and it is an international problem, and those that were a part of NUS Black Students' Conference have good intentions - but are going about the right things in completely and utterly the wrong way.
It is time to grow, it is time to change, and it is time to live up to the word that the student movement loves to shout from the rooftops: 'solidarity'. It is simply immoral to limit participation in a movement because of the colour of one's skin, cultural heritage or ethnic identity. In doing so, we entertain the notion that it is okay to discriminate based on socially constructed labels. For change to truly occur, all those that wish to support the cause, whatever it may be, must be welcomed. A collective voice is always more powerful than one that is born from groups who are unwavering in support of the divisions that have contributed to the birth of the issues that they are trying to solve.
50 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. marched with the support of both blacks and whites in the fight for equal rights in America. We are in 2015 and we are one people. We should not be imposing policies that our own forefathers fought against, we should not discriminate in an attempt to create equality through segregation, and we should not exist as hypocrites and a contradiction.
I live in the hope that I will never again have to stomach such a saddening and disappointing experience at a movement that is ultimately meant for good. The misguided passion that I witnessed could create some real change if channelled in the correct way.
Through being elected as the President of the University of Surrey Students' Union, I was given the mandate to be the lead representative for all students at this institution. I do not pick and choose who I am here to support and I do not discriminate - I come into work every day ready to stand up for every single one of my fellow students. We do not have a black students' officer. Likewise, we do not have a white students' officer - we have officers that are in place to represent all students following an election involving all students. At a national level, nothing will be achieved until we stop with the tunnel-vision approach. Similarly to Morgan Freeman's December 2005 analysis of Black History Month, stating that the best way to end racism today is to "stop talking about it"; I would be in support of discontinuing the Black Students' Conference and Black Students' Officer/Committee.
The student movement is strong and it has the scope to create meaningful change, but it must first change itself. Those in leadership at the National Union of Students (NUS) must take a step back and use their influential positions to realign priorities, develop strategies that serve for the greater good, and most importantly, unite the 600 Students' Union's that are affiliated to the national voice of students.
Maz Hussien is president of the University of Surrey Students' Union