Amherst Uprising began as an initiative aimed to recognize the plethora of racial injustices observed throughout the nation. The movement, however, became more than empathizing with racism. It became a raw affirmation that racial inequalities pervade our own social environment at the college and has impacted – if not completely dictated – the lives of practically every person of color. The pain expressed by my colleagues and friends overwhelmed me with a myriad of feelings ranging from sadness to disappointment. In the tremble of the voices of those who stood to speak, I could feel loneliness and despair. With the tears that fell from the faces of countless students and how “uncomfortable” many white students, professors, faculty, and staff have expressed feeling during those hours, everyone present would attest that issues of race continue to play an active and significant role in our society. During those moments, race became more than a social construct; it became the overt reality that governed life outcomes. The sit-in provided a place for students of color, like myself, to express how the color of their skin perpetuates countless problems that they deal with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. During the hours that I spent in the library that day, I was ecstatic that so many of my friends were finally in a position to be heard and understood. However, I am shocked and utterly disappointed to see how many outside spectators of the event insist on ridiculing the goals of the movement.
Social media has either wrongly re-articulated the goal of the movement as a permanent removal of “free speech” or has simply belittled its ambitions. I was personally disgusted at the quickness of the general public to suggest that the Paris attack justifies how insignificant issues of race are. In this blog, I argue that these responses toward Amherst Uprising derive from the belief that we live in a colorblind society. Specifically, social media has exemplified the notion that race and racism are not mutually exclusive but contingent ideologies: if we state that we are a “colorblind” society, then there is no longer such a thing as “race”. Thus, there cannot be “racism”; therefore, the purpose of Amherst Uprising, as these comments demonstrate, is meaningless. Thus, I intend to debunk the idea of colorblindness by delineating why ideas of race, and thus racism, still exists in today’s world.
Race is an ideology shaped by the historical context for which it is formed. Karen E. Fields and Barbara J. Fields, in Racecraft write:
Ideology is best understood as the descriptive vocabulary of day-to-day existence through which people make rough sense of the social reality that they live and create from day to do. It is the language of consciousness that suits the particular way in which people deal with their fellows. It is the interpretation in thought of the social relations through which they constantly create and recreate their collective being, in all the varied forms their collective being may assume: family, clan, tribe, nation, class, party, business enterprise, church, army, club, and so on. As such, ideologies are not delusions but real, as real as the social relations for which they stand.”
In short, ideologies become the manifestation of everyday human behavior and governance whether or not 1. The individual recognizes it or not and 2. Is in favor of it or not. The manifestation of race is racism, or the innate classification of persons as inferior or superior by another person. When analyzing the Civil Rights Era, it is impossible to discuss “race” as anything other than the starkly unequal world of disenfranchisement and oppression of blacks. With Jim Crow Laws and the surge of the Ku Klux Klan, classifications of race were made clear and normalized through racism. Therefore, events such as the Montgomery bus boycott, the March on Washington, and Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech” all held such high profiles and were given such significant attention because they were actively uprooting and redefining the ideologies of race. Because of such occasions, in fact, our understanding of race has drastically shifted. We no longer here the word “negro” being tossed around in everyday vernacular. We use the word “people of color” instead of “colored people”. We have laws in place reprimanding racial discriminations in work places. We articulate in schools, the home, and offices that anyone of any race can succeed if they put in the effort. Because explicit demonstrations of racism has virtually been removed from sight, many today would argue that issues of race has dissipated (for the most part) as well. However, race as an ideology, and therefore racism, still exists and continues to haunt our society.
Laws no longer allow for racial discrimination. However, acts of racial injustice are still committed. Think about it: the nation went from the enslavement of blacks, to the enforcing Jim Crow Laws, to have a disproportionate amount of blacks being incarcerated (60% of almost 2.1 million male inmates are black). Additionally, 27.4% of African Americans and 26.6% of Hispanics live in poverty. On the flip-side, 9.9% of whites live in poverty. Could these statistics possibly be correlated in anyway? Well, in today’s “colorblind” society, such statistics have nothing to do with race or racial inequalities: it’s clearly the fault of blacks or other people of color. I hope you caught the sarcasm in that last statement, because this is where I argue why racial insensitivities exist and were expressed so horribly in social media’s take on Amherst Uprising.
The reason why so many articles about Amherst Uprising has strayed away from discussing actual racial issues, or why twitter is persistent on calling us “cry babies”, is because many in society fail to realize that race and racism still play a major role in dictating the lives of many in our nation today. Regardless of whether you are a college student, employee at McDonalds or employee at Morgan Stanley, issues of race still exists. However, our “colorblind” society is so quick to argue that race is no longer a thing and blatantly state that many of our complaints are bullshit. Many in society have, in fact, written that affirmative action should no longer exist because they fail acknowledge how race continues to limit opportunity. Thus, issues of race become enhanced and felt just as much, if not more, as if explicit acts and laws of racism still existed liked they did before the Civil Rights Movement.
We, as a college and as a society, need to open our eyes and realize that issues of race and racism are real and still pervade our everyday life. We need to stop pretending like it has disappeared and start engaging in discussions that will help improve our shared humanity. It is my hope that the movement continues to challenge issues of race.