Monday, April 21, 2014
To the editor:
The topic of racism has been front-page news lately here in Amherst. The attacks against Carolyn Gardner were extreme and are getting most of the press. But as Gardner is the first to say, it is the day-to-day institutional racism that is the larger concern.
There are many efforts going on to try to address this and we need more or better efforts. But this is not easy. Kids and adults come into our school system with baggage they picked up in our community. Somehow we need to all help unload that baggage.
One problem we face is that many people — mostly white, but some people of color — think the words racism and racist do not describe what we are. I would ask you to consider this definition of racism, from Kali Tal, which is one of the best I have read: “Racism, however, describes patterns of discrimination that are institutionalized as ‘normal’ throughout an entire culture. It’s based on an ideological belief that one ‘race’ is somehow better than another ‘race.’ It’s not one person discriminating at this point, but a whole population operating in a social structure that actually makes it difficult for a person not to discriminate.”
Another problem is that many whites tend to approach this topic with a mixture of fear and guilt. There is no need for that and it is not helpful. What we need to do is be aware. Be aware of our thoughts about people of color.
Be aware when someone serves us first instead of the person of color standing next to us. Be aware when the honors math class we sit in is all white, when half the population of the school is non-white. Be aware when we look around at Amherst Town Meeting and see a largely white set of faces. Be aware that you cannot stand in the shoes of a person of a different race.
And be aware that with increased awareness comes the responsibility of doing something about what we see.
The writer is a member of the Amherst School Committee.