Last week, no matter where they were on campus, students couldn’t help but encounter the Black Lives Matter campaign. Posters raising awareness about incidents of police brutality confronted students walking out of Merrill, running to Val, heading home for a quick nap. Students who generally didn’t have to think about this issue much less fear for their lives on a daily basis were forced to confront this blatant inequality. Though some of us normally live our daily lives completely blind to this issue, the campaign pushed us out of the personal (and collective) Amherst bubble.
Black Lives Matter Awareness Week was an amazing event. It went, in this paper’s opinion, above and beyond in raising awareness for a systemic issue that, although affects a minority, should be critically assessed by every citizen. We should be discussing police brutality against black youths on a college campus. Part of the purpose of a liberal arts education is to identify structural issues in our society and find solutions and common goals for addressing them. We should feel uncomfortable and lean into this discomfort by having open dialogues about these issues. However, halfway through Black Lives Matter Awareness Week, every class discussion or conversation in Val became focused not on issues of violence against the broader black community but on the shameful actions of a select few on our own campus.
No one will disagree that the “All Lives Matter” counter-campaign stole the spotlight from the original Black Lives Matter movement. Last Monday night, during the screening of “Fruitvale Station,” a powerful film about police violence, posters citing incorrect and racially biased abortion facts were put up above those from the Black Lives Matter campaign. It was malicious and wrong of the actors behind the All Lives Matter campaign to try to divert this crucial conversation by subverting the very slogan itself for their own purposes.
Yet, the student body, the faculty and the administration has, in large part, only talked about the awareness of the Black Lives Matter campaign in terms of this distraction. While her office hadn’t mentioned Black Lives Matter Awareness Week before the appearance of the All Lives Matter posters, Biddy sent out a passionate email after the fact asking students to consider “what matters.” It is notable and telling that no administrator or faculty member acknowledged the week’s events until after the controversy with the All Lives Matter campaign. There have been collective calls to fight back abstractly against the individuals behind All Lives Matter, but no call to acknowledge the issue of police brutality. There was no call for those who do not have to think about their race to critically assess their privilege.
Last week, as a campus, we began to talk about issues at the heart of the Black Lives Matter campaign. But unfortunately, this discussion was diverted when the general response from students, faculty and administration was to condemn the All Lives Matter postering as opposed to pushing students to have an uncomfortable but necessary dialogue about race, class and privilege. We focused on controversy within our community rather than a real societal inequality. Though this campaign was a valiant and notable effort to raise awareness, our response as a campus perpetuated the Amherst Bubble instead of popping it.