Amherst Life Blog

Welcome to the Amherst Life Blog! Here we will be posting information on activities, events, arts, community concerns, local business, and a variety of other topics related to life in Amherst, Massachusetts. If you are new to the area and looking for housing, please check out our other blog too ------------>> Amherst Housing Blog ::.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Town of Amherst: On Racial Tension and Racism

This post is in reference to the the first of eight points that one of our readers made (they can be found in the “Town of Amherst: Reader Perceptions" post). We hope other readers will respond to some of the ideas that the commenter raises and/or the ones that the Amherst Life Crew touches upon. We will begin by addressing the first point (we have re-posted it below), and will slowly but surely make out way to the last in future posts.

(1) I grew up in Amherst, and I disagree with your assertion that Amherst has "a long history of racism." What Amherst does have is a long history of racial tension -- which is not the same thing. This tension is due in part to the fact that it's considered socially acceptable in Amherst to imply that someone is a bigot if you disagree with them, even on issues only tangentially related to race. This tactic is effective because the white liberals who make up a majority of the town's population are terrified of being accused of racism. So such an accusation is a near-perfect trump card. In the long run, however, this sort of coercion is quite naturally going to lead to bitterness and mistrust on both sides (see, e.g., the West Side Story controversy).

Amherst Life:
--Several of the Amherst Life Blog writers also grew up in Amherst, so we hope that the commenter will not feel like we are calling him/her a “bigot” based on what he/she stated as a cultural norm in Amherst, MA (apparently, ideological differences “only tangentially related to race” often result in one or both parties being labeled as “bigots” or “racists”).

--A quick question on the distinction the commenter is drawing between “racial tension” and “racism”: does “racial tension” in Amherst arise from a context divorced from race, race distinctions, race relations, history of “race” as an ideology and cultural construction, and, of course, racism? We are not completely sure if you can separate these contexts.

--The observation that people are often labeled “bigots” when another person disagrees with them is interesting. First, maybe they are “bigots.” It is not out of the question, especially considering the history of “bigotry” in Massachusetts and in Amherst. People in Massachusetts put up more resistance to integrating public schools than in the South.... Is the commenter saying that people in Amherst are over-sensitive to racism? That people jump to conclusions? Maybe they should. Maybe the “white liberal” majority of this town (as the commenter calls it) are in fact racists and that is why they “are terrified of being accused of racism.” These are ideas. It would be interesting to hear our reader’s opinions on this matter.

--Regarding bitterness and mistrust on both sides: it’s already there. Whether Amherst folks call each other racists or not, those two elements are transformative.

--To conclude: if Amherst does not have a long history of racism, how do we explain the following: students and officials dress up in KKK garb in front of an “I love ALANA” poster at UMass and nobody loses their job; a store window is smashed and words of racial hatred are written all over it; the town name is celebrated and unchanged; police harassment of so-called “minorities” is rampant;local businesses are intimidating folks. In the history of Amherst, how many African Americans, Native Americans, and/or Latinos own/have owned businesses in the town? How many are on the selectboard? The answers are revealing.

These are not just the actions of kid “losers”, as the commenter suggests. There is malice, there is hatred, and there is racism in those acts. To deny it is to not see a situation from more than one side. And to give a voice to “other” sides is the point of this blog.


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