Black Lives Matter in Amherst

By Karly Dunn

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

As I was taking my morning commute to UMass on Tuesday, I turned onto South Pleasant Street to drive through town and saw a Black Lives Matter banner hanging proudly above passing traffic. I found myself unable to describe what it was that overwhelmed me about seeing this banner as I drove underneath it, but I felt myself tearing up at the sight of it.

For the rest of my drive, I thought about the significance of this and the things a lot of people I knew would criticize about it. Since its founding, the Black Lives Matter movement has been refuted with the idea that “All Lives Matter,” to which people like me have responded that while this is true, we live in a society where minorities have clearly not been treated equally.

I thought for a second that maybe the movement could be better revised to say “Black Lives Matter, Too,” to explain to refuters what I have argued continuously. But I immediately retracted that thought as it’s irrelevant to the controversy. The rationale behind my retraction was simple: Black lives and minority lives have been treated as an afterthought even in a supposed “post-racial” world.

Adding the word “too” to the group’s fight against institutional racism only self-appoints them as an “and” – an addition to the white population rather than a part of “All Lives” that their opposition claims matter. In an even simpler format, this movement is not, and will never be, about me.  Who am I to think that the leaders of this movement should change their slogan just to accommodate the white oppressors they are fighting against in the first place?

In a more local light, I am proud. The banner I will now see every day on my drive is a signifier of a town that cares about the lives oppressed in America. I’m not a woman of color and I haven’t personally fallen victim of the oppressions minorities face on a daily basis, but I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride that the town I spend my time in is working to embody the same values that I have been aiming to instill in some of my family members and friends for months on end.

The Black Lives Matter movement is an organization I have supported since its establishment, and I have been increasingly discouraged trying to explain racial inequality as a white woman to another group of white individuals. By seeing this banner Tuesday morning, I recognized two main feelings.

The first of these feelings was pretty obvious: I am not even remotely close to understanding the injustices people of color face in America. I have no anecdotal evidence to provide to those who I talk to about racial issues and I will never experience the struggles people of color have just by being people of color.

I do, however, recognize my own privilege. I notice the privileges I have over my fellow community members of color and people I have interacted with my entire life. By harnessing this privilege, I hope I can channel it to fight white supremacy. I hope I can one day contribute to a change in society and raise a family that is not colorblind but instead sees past racial differences and prejudices to create a community of racial equality.

I might not be able to change someone’s mind today, but maybe I’ll learn how to approach people who are not willing to change their warped perception that Americans are all equal and work with them to not only change policies but to foster a newer society that listens more to the minority public about racial struggle than those who govern them and speak on their behalf.

The second feeling that overtook me that morning was more of a reinforcement that Amherst has taken a stand against racial inequality. I may know infinitely less than people of color, and this may be just a banner, but it is a banner that tells all that Amherst is not standing for the racism and discrimination that has plagued our country since its founding.

This town has announced that it is capable of fighting against prejudice, racial slurs, mass incarceration and all the acts of violence that people of color are susceptible to in America.  Although this is only one small step that is a fraction of necessary change toward racial equality, I am proud to be a student in a community that embraces and takes concern in the lives of minorities.

Karly Dunn can be reached at [email protected]