According to UT legend, if you see an albino squirrel on the day of a test, you’ll have good luck. There have been countless claims that seeing the squirrel has brought success, even for students who expected a failing grade.
University traditions are usually taught to students before their lives as college students even begin. During orientation, freshmen learn to love Bevo, sing “The Eyes of Texas,” and to keep an eye peeled for the albino squirrel.
Traditions that we associate with campuses affect how a student experiences college life. These traditions can negatively affect students of color due to a university’s problematic past. For example, “The Eyes of Texas” with its problematic origin, has made UT a less welcoming and comfortable space for African American students.
The battle being fought over “The Eyes of Texas” is a powerful milestone in encouraging students to re-evaluate other accepted parts of being a “Longhorn.”
The albino squirrel legend is common knowledge among the majority of UT’s massive student body. This popularity combined with the current emphasis on fighting racial injustice requires us to have a conversation about what the albino squirrels can teach us about race relations.
With me so far? I made the jump from the sensible re-evaluation of “The Eyes of Texas” to stretching my logic to claim that albino squirrels could be problematic.
One could say that the albino squirrel is just a genetic abnormality to scientists, yet students add extra value to the squirrel’s distinct whiteness. The association we make that “whiteness means good” with the squirrel is a by-product of systemic racism in the United States.
Ridiculous, right? However, in an era where everything has the potential to become problematic, the idea that albino squirrels could reflect opinions on white supremacy might not seem too far fetched.
When Netflix removed a scene from the TV show “The Office,” which included blackface, was a difference made for African Americans? Or when HBO removed “Gone With The Wind” from its streaming library, did institutional racism keel over and die? No! But it shows the world that these companies are allies to the Black Lives Matter movement.
What about when millions across the country flooded social media this summer to post black squares? The solidarity for Black Lives Matter was meaningful, but for many, posting the square was the end of the line for their “activism.” The black square was a way to signal to others around them two things:
(1) I’m “a part” of this movement now, so I’m safe from judgment.
(2) I can look down on others who “didn’t” do their part.
And this is a good strategy: minimal effort for the same social boost actual activism receives. My example of “What The Albino Squirrels “Can” Teach Us About Race Relations” allows me to create a problem, address it and condemn it, and then share it with the world. When protesting becomes too time consuming and less glamorous, why wouldn’t I write an article about racist squirrels from the comfort of my desk? I’ll likely receive more recognition in less time than I would by going to a protest against police brutality.
I’m not trying to be pessimistic; I genuinely believe many of those who have taken part in the social justice movements that have swept across the world this summer are well-intentioned and passionate. But the phony activism that cancels old movies or writes about racist squirrels is a hindrance. When earning social clout is at play for “who can be the most woke,” it becomes more about the “self” than the movement. It draws attention away from the activism that has the potential to bring about actual change and creates a target for those who seek to tear down the Black Lives Matter movement.