This post was inspired by Bryan’s post “Bryan’s Question Corner #5.”
As I drifted through various conversations during the weekend of the Amherst Uprising, I heard many encouraging thoughts and realizations emerge from the mouths of my white friends and peers. Some of my white classmates, however, were stuck on the fact that they could not relate to the emotional pain expressed by so many students of color who spoke up in Frost during the first few hours of the Uprising. Because they couldn’t relate to these emotions, they discounted them as real evidence of racism and instead became attached to the “factual” evidence presented in the accounts of racist incidents. They themselves had never felt race-based pain, so they wrote off stories of depression and feelings of alienation and invisibility as insufficient proof of the oppression these students of color faced. This checking and verifying of “facts” in people of color’s stories, which Bryan wrote about in his original piece, completely undermines the colossal importance of the emotional impacts and racist implications of subtle actions and nuanced situations. In one particular conversation I was a part of, I ended up being the only person of color who challenged my white floormates’ fixation on the “facts” in all these stories. I asked, “How does showing raw emotions and breaking down make our cases weaker and less believable? Aren’t these visible emotions proof of the suffering students of color face on the basis of their race?” My floormates never directly responded to my questions; they just lowered their gazes and nodded quietly. I still don’t understand, however, why they can’t take our word for it. Why does showing emotion weaken your argument? Why does it cause people to turn against our cause instead of evoking empathy and compassion? I still don’t know the answers to these questions. I just hope that my floormates heard me, and that they’ll be even just a little more open to accepting and believing experiences they can’t necessarily relate to.