A Taboo Topic
Relaxed conversation about race is relatively rare across racial differences or among white people in the Amherst area. Many white people in the Amherst area are very eager to avoid being seen as racist and feel the safest course is to avoid the topic whenever possible. The notion that some people are “racists” and others are “not racists” is inhibiting dialogue and shared exploration of this important topic, perhaps especially in the Amherst area.
We’re All Affected
Most researchers and scientists in the field now are certain that virtually everyone growing up in the United States inevitably internalizes some racism. Regardless of our own racial identity, we take in various racial stereotypes, fears, and reactions. Even if we consciously disagree with and reject these notions, they sit in our minds and against our wills affect our behavior and perceptions.
Like Smog in the Air
Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, who used to live here, writes that racism in the United States is like “smog in the air”. We don’t breathe it because we want to, we breathe it because it’s the only air that’s available. It’s all around us in this society. She says, “if we have all been breathing in smog, we can’t help but have our thinking shaped by it somehow. As a consequence, we all have work to do. Whether you identify as a person of color, whether you identify as a white person, it doesn’t matter. We all have been exposed to misinformation that we have to think critically about.”
The Question Is
If we could all accept that we’ve all internalized some racism, and that it affects us whether we want it to or not, whether we are aware of it or not, then perhaps we could begin to talk more easily with each other about race. The question for white people is not “How do I avoid being seen as a racist?”, but “How has growing up in a society with a lot of racism affected me?” and “How can we work together to reduce the effects of what racism has done (and is doing) to all of us?”
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See Featured Readings for more of “An Interview with Beverly Daniel Tatum”. See Frequently Asked Questions for a discussion of “Am I Supposed to Be Colorblind?”.
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This society is not “post-racial”
Racism is a significant feature of social, political, and economic life today, both nationally and locally. Racism today is often carried out without using the language of race, and in many cases is enacted based on unawareness rather than on the basis of hate or racist intent, or is revealed in white people wanting to maintain the inequitable status quo. As a result, it is difficult for many people, especially white people, to recognize racism, to name it, to speak out against it, to organize effective anti-racism actions, and to prioritize eliminating it. Nonetheless, racism affects us all and separates us, whether we are aware of it or not.
Painful realities, but not about blame or guilt
Although there are painful realities that must be faced in understanding contemporary racism, this project is not designed to blame or stimulate guilt. It is designed to engage people of goodwill of all races in getting more connected with each other and working together to create a community with more equitable access, participation, understanding, and outcomes. While we can expect some of this to be uncomfortable, this discomfort is part of the road to greater wholeness both individually and collectively. We believe that we can have the town and the world we want, but only by working for it together with courage, honesty, and persistence.