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Saturday, December 08, 2007

UMass: On Perceived “Witch Hunts” in the Wake of Obscured Racism

UMass-Amherst --- The point of having a forum on racism at UMass was (and is) to turn a specific incident into a learning experience that can bring about institutional change. By focusing on the event alone, by declaring people's concern regarding a series of events a "witch hunt", by getting caught up in feelings that people are attacking Spain or Colombia as nations (let me remind you that the people offended by those images also felt attacked) you ARE MISSING THE POINT and PREVENTING CHANGE from occurring. You are making it worse.

As students, you are making it worse for us as a community because you are sidetracking the purpose – to look at the RESPONSE to this incident and recognize that students coming forward were threatened and intimidated by faculty and officials. As faculty, you are making it worse because – whether you believe it or not – you hold positions of power in this university. By threatening students, by ignoring them, by pushing the issue to someone else, by not informing your colleagues of what is going on YOU ARE contributing to the construction of a community of intolerance and ignorance, and you are condoning any type of hate crime. Finally, as friends of the people involved in the initial racist act at a Halloween party via costume wearing, you are also making it worse for your dear friends. Why? Because by insisting on the “witch hunt” or “out for blood” concept, by insisting that people have disrespected your nation by not understanding its cultural traditions, you are making it very possible for the university to say “well, damn, lets side step the whole problem and get rid of those two students – that’s why people are upset, ain’t it?” To re-phrase, you are making it easier for the university to cover up the fact that they DID NOT RESPOND IN CONSTRUCTIVE WAYS TO THIS INCIDENT BUT RATHER FOSTERED THE TYPE OF THREATENING AND INTIMIDATING BEHAVIOUR ADOPTED BY A HANDFULL OF PROFESSORS AND OFFICIALS (and believe me, covering up is exactly what they would like to do, as seen in the ZERO coverage allowed in our campus newspaper) and just get rid of your compatriots.

I’d like to conclude by saying that by insisting that this is a witch hunt or a hunt “for blood”, and by insisting that Spanish and Colombian nations are under attack YOU ARE ARROGANTLY AND IGNORANTLY overlooking the fact that people (MANY people) were highly offended, angered, disturbed, saddened by the images – direct or indirect – that they saw. By acting in this way, you are not allowing the victims to let their voices be heard and you are preventing change from occurring. By insisting that you as Spanish or Colombians or as the perpetrators involved in this incident are victims you are forgetting that MANY people were offended by the incident and the response to the incident. You are BLOCKING the voice of the real victims of racism from being heard, and that is, in many ways, worse than the original costume-wearing act because you know that something happened at a Halloween party that hurt people all over the country and you disregard them. You are fully aware of what you are doing.

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