Arlene Avakian: Cannot be complacent in confronting racism

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Monday, September 11, 2017
Cannot be complacent in confronting racism

Like most of us, I was disturbed — though not surprised — by the incidents of racism in Easthampton High School that were publicly revealed last spring.

It is heartening to see that these events have finally been taken seriously both locally and from the office of the attorney general and that a serious plan to address racism in the system has been formulated.

However, I think it is crucial for us all to realize that Easthampton High School is not the only school in the Valley that has a problem with racism.

As someone who lived in Amherst and Northampton for more than four decades, I am all too familiar with the inability of people in the “Happy Valley” to admit that the problems in our society — racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, drugs, violence — are also part of our communities.

Schools are deeply embedded in societies and we live in a white supremacist society. All of us who are white, to a greater or lesser degree, are blind to both the racism that exists in our communities and our own privileges. Our schools both reflect and perpetuate these problems. Disciplinary discrepancies between white students and students of color, for example, are commonplace all over the country. Complaints by students of color that they do not feel safe are also ubiquitous as is the lack of adequate and proactive responses to make students feel safe.

Some schools in our area have been working on these issues for some time, but we cannot assume that the Valley is immune to these problems. There is no quick fix. It takes serious commitment, effort and time for people and institutions to change no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

The situation is exacerbated, of course, since the election of our current president and the people he has brought into his administration, most of whom like the attorney general have been committed to upholding white supremacy for the entirety of their political lives. But this nation was built and prospered on white supremacism, the ideology that upheld the genocide of the indigenous people and the enslavement of those who worked the land stolen from them.

We must resist the tendency to look to the other — in this case, Easthampton — as the racists. As whites we are all complicit and none of us can be complacent if we want to be part of the solution.

Arlene Avakian