“Stand United, Fight Hate” Lecturer Defines What It Means To Be Anti-Racist

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Dr. Ibram X. Kendi gives a talk at the Fine Arts Center Concert Hall about how to be an anti-racist. Photo credit: Isha Mahajan

by Ethan Bakuli, Brie Bristol, and Cynthia Ntinunu

On Wednesday night, November 7th, over 500 people gathered in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Fine Arts Center Concert Hall for a talk by New York Times best-selling author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. His lecture, titled “How to Be An AntiRacist” was part of the inaugural UMass “Stand United, Fight Hate” series. The title of Kendi’s lecture is based off the name of his forthcoming book, while the talk itself covered the topics to be explored in his second novel, Stamped From the Beginning: A Definitive History Of Racist Ideas In America”.

Kendi’s arrival to campus comes in the wake of several racist incidents that have taken place on the UMass Amherst campus since the semester began. In particular, the morning of the lecture, there were white nationalist flyers and stickers plastered across the campus by the group Identity Evropa. (Note: This is not the first time Identity Evropa propaganda have been found at UMass Amherst. In March of 2017, numerous flyers were found in Lot 44).

In light of these incidents, Kendi started the talk by imploring the audience to understand the real purpose of racial terror. “[Their] purpose is to undermine anti-racist efforts. Just like when racist ideas make people ignorant, racist terror makes people fear.”

As the night went on, Kendi would center his talk on “recognizing the distinctions between racist and anti-racist” ideas and policies. Kendi believes that one of the problems with racism is that people don’t have a concrete definition of the word. Thus this leads to people interpreting what it means to be racist in their own terms which means people have a false definition and may see themselves as not racist.

Kendi made sure to give the audience clear definitions. According to Kendi, a racist is “supporting policies that yield racial inequity”, justifying those policies by stating certain racial groups are unequal. While an anti-racist is “supporting policies that yield racial equity” and expressing ideas that connote that the racial groups are equals.

These definitions laid the groundwork for Kendi to go on and define others terms like anti-racist/racist ideas and policies. According to Kendi, a racist idea is “any idea that suggests a racial group is superior or inferior to another racial group in any way”. While an anti-racist idea is “any idea that places racial groups as equals”.

In envisioning the steps toward being an anti-racist, Kendi proposed people to stop self-identifying as “not racist”. Drawing on historical examples of slaveholders justifying slavery through the Bible and politicians defending mass incarceration of black and brown bodies as “putting away bad people”, Kendi demonstrated how “not racists” have always redefined what is racist or anti-racist to benefit their self-interest and power.

“You can’t really separate the history of racism with the history of people saying that they’re not racist. The heartbeat of racism itself is the denial of racism itself.” Kendi went on to explain that claiming to be “not racist” allows a person to continue denying their racist ideas and the racist policies they support.

Kendi expressed that another way to avoid being an anti-racist is to not believe the misleading statistics about certain races. So if we are ever going to start on that road of being not anti-racist we need to stop viewing ourselves as not racists and stop believing falsified facts thrown at us.

Kendi ended his lecture calling on the audience to “understand the source of racist policies, so they can challenge those racist policies” in their communities. And the source of racist policies is power.

“To be anti-racist is to be engaged in the power struggle.” According to Kendi, in order for society to create equity it’s not by “educating millions of people that it’s okay,” rather “it’s getting in a position of power where you can change policy that creates equity.”

After Kendi finished speaking, Associate Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Anna Branch presented a video from the Erase the Hate campaign, encouraging the audience to continue learning how to combat hate and hate crimes. The event wrapped up with a book signing where people could talk with Kendi for a moment and have a copy of  “Stamped From the Beginning” autographed.

 

A Space that Students Need but Do Not Receive

By Lucia Solórzano

As a student of color at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, it’s never surprising to be asked: “what are you?” Full disclosure: I am half-Peruvian and half unknown Caucasian. Despite being an annoying question, I usually answer it because I can tell it’s well-intended or I’ll say something like “I am.. a person?” But in sophomore year, one random white guy walked up to me at a party and asked me that question. Internally rolling my eyes, I told him.

What he said next made me…very uncomfortable: “Wow, that’s so cool. White people are like a parasite to the earth and you being mixed is helping further the human race.”

I think he meant well. But it’s lack of self-awareness on what to say to a person of color on campus that highlights the microaggressions (even if well intended) that students of color often experience. Smaller incidents like this, along with extreme ones such as the racist graffiti in the Melville dormitory, demonstrate why we need a multicultural center at UMass in an accessible location to provide students of color with a community that understands what they are going through.

UMass currently provides services to students of color through organizations such as CMASS (Center of Multicultural Academic Student Success), Student Bridges, and all the multicultural student-run clubs. Student Bridges connects college and high school student through mentoring programs. CMASS provides access to weekly events around campus, promotes events from other multicultural organizations, and hosts classes, heritage dinners, therapy advising, first-generation student advising, and more. However, none of these clubs or organizations are located in the Student Union besides Student Bridges, which is more of an administration office.

Other universities, such as Amherst College and Rochester Institute of Technology (the school I transferred from), have multicultural centers inside their Student Unions that have services ready, staff on the clock, and a space to hang out and do work together. Both of these schools’ centers have high involvement with students of color and they are in a central location on campus so that people can stop by at any time.

When I first arrived at UMass Amherst as a transfer student, location really mattered. I barely had an orientation, so I went to the central places on campus to look for refuge, but there weren’t spaces similar to the multicultural center at RIT that I loved so much. Places like CMASS and other groups, which do so much good, were out of my peripheral and placed in out-of-sight, out-of-mind locations on the other side of campus.

UMass does have a lot of resources for students of color, but they are all dispersed and there is no central place for students to gather and find resources. Something like an extension of a CMASS office to the Campus Center would be great for students of color to easily access information, provide a hang-out space, as well as another possible space for multicultural clubs to gather. If our school truly cares about its diversity — resources for school, mental health, and financial aid, amongst other things should be more accessible and in a central location that is easy to find for groups that need a little extra support.

 

Power vs Powerlessness

By Isha Mahajan

As a senior in high school, I’d been working to complete an early decision application to New York University. Applying as a Political Science major, It was essential to have a recommendation from my Political Science teacher and after she’d agreed to write it, I had hoped that she would be responsible about it irrespective of the fact how much she disliked me because of my political opinions. She was also the chief advisor for the Model UN Society of which I’d been an active member and had held very large contributions with the work I had done for them.

 

A day before submitting my application when I sat down to review it for the final time, I realised that the letter from the Political Science teacher had not been submitted. I was extremely worried and I was frantically calling her number multiple times. After calling a few times, she answered the phone and replied in a nasty manner that she was at a cousin’s wedding and would not be able to turn in my letter that night. I’d never felt so powerless about anything and I was regretting my decision of giving that authority to her. After a lot of chaos she turned in a document which I found out later was just half a page of the entire letter. I didn’t make it to NYU for very obvious reasons and I changed my recommender for the rest of my applications just so I wouldn’t lose out on opportunities any further. After I returned to school, she was apologetic about what happened but I was in a dilemma about whether she meant it or not. I shared the incident with my peers and a few faculty members who were aware of my equation with her and all of them told me that I should report it to the school principal and there should be some sort of action taken. I didn’t act upon that advice because as my Political Science teacher, she held 20% of my final grade which would have also been crucial in the whole college decision making process.

 

I think of this incident two years later attending UMass and wonder if that streak of arrogance and authority come into play when we give Power to people? Living in a democracy we often tend to use the power we have to choose our leaders by analyzing traits of selflessness, righteousness and dutifulness, which the current political scenario lacks.  At the time of elections, Politicians make grand promises about working for the welfare of the society once they come into power, but soon after the results are announced people end up regretting their vote. After a point in time, we citizens really don’t see a difference between a totalitarian and democratic regime because either way the leader at the realm of affairs is calling the shots whether you like it or not.

 

If we touch base with history, World War II invested power in statesmen like Hitler and Mussolini who had authority over the entire state. People of the state had no voice and even if they did, it was buried down in the fumes of concentration camps and domestic torture. They were powerless. The power in the leaders was vested in them because the people put in their faith for the prosperity of the country but these political leaders were so lured by the power they had that it tampered the ability of rational thinking and eventually led to destruction of mankind.

Often times powerlessness makes us desperate for authority and wants to make us compromise our morals and integrity, but what truly corrupts people to do the wrong thing is the taste of power. Acquiring power just makes one oblivious to the fact that nothing is permanent.

Powerful leaders like Kim Jong Yong, Saddam Hussein and Bashar Al Assad show how much power can drive you to completely ignore the love for humanity and make you ignorant to the devastating impact to the world.

If we decide to remove all social, political and economic barriers of religion, race, ethnicity, identity, community, inflation and poverty, would we all for a minute stand up and raise our eyes to see what wrong doings are happening around us and how can we really curb them?

 

When I decided to stay quiet about bringing to light my teacher’s bias, I was petrified about the authority she had over me. As I sit down to write about power today, it makes me bolder to not remain silent about witnessing wrong things and not talking about them. I may not have the power, but my voice is enough for more than most people to understand and react to changing even the smallest of wrong incidents happening around us. As we start paying attention to even the smallest issues that are not right, we’ll start feeling authoritative enough to bring a change to humanity and with this, the world might start to know peace.

Natural Hair Care Fair

By Cynthia Ntinunu

On Saturday Oct. 27th at 11am Smith College held a natural hair care fair. This event was dedicated to people with natural hair or those interested in it. There were various tables that featured products, arts and crafts, and tables teaching people how to do different hair styles. Attendees were able to see instructors teach how to do box braids, wigs, twists, and flexi rod sets. Alongside this there were people selling their products like shea butter and jewelry. Also, the company Curls sponsored the event by giving out “free products.

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Attendees gather around to see the various stations.
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The instructor was showing off the hair that would be used to do the twists.
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One station taught people how to do box braids.
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One of the stations taught attendees how to make wigs.
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The instructor was showing attendees how to start the box braid with the added hair.
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There was a station for homemade shampoo.
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One lady sold her shea butter products at the event.
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Products
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There was a table teaching attendees how to do a flexi rod set.
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Attendees got to make collages.
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Curls was the event’s sponsor.
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Attendees used magazines like the one with Kerry Washington on it, to decorate their art profiles.

As a Cisgender Woman is my Safety at Risk if Senate Bill 2407 is Upheld? Short answer: obviously not.

By Barbara Conant

On Tuesday November 6th, of 2018 I plan to exercise my right as an American citizen and vote in the general election. I’m particularly excited to vote on question three. Let’s first look at what this Massachusetts ballot question is asking. Question three asks voters if they want to uphold a law that prohibits discrimination in public places based on gender identity. I will vote yes, meaning I will vote to uphold Senate Bill 2407, which passed in 2016, in the hopes to continue prohibiting discrimination.

However, as a cisgender woman I am being asked, for my safety and the safety of children, to vote no. A vote no would repeal Senate Bill 2407 and allow discrimination in public places based on gender identity. Public places meaning coffee shops, locker rooms, schools, hotels, and most controversial: bathrooms.

No-voters seem to believe allowing transgender and genderqueer people to use public accommodations, such as bathrooms, would take away my safety. The logic behind this argument is that men would be allowed, encouraged even, to come into the women’s bathroom and assault women and children.  

This logic disregards the fact that since this law came to place in 2016 there have been no reports of assault from a man abusing this law. This becomes particularly interesting when one notes that in 2015 65% of transgender people in Massachusetts reported discrimination in a public location. Based on this statistic alone I think it’s clear transgender people are inherently more at risk. Nevertheless, I can recognize that opposers truly believe my safety is at risk if I vote yes. I believe their concern stems from feelings of fear and a lack of understanding of people who aren’t cisgender.

I admit that I don’t know many transgender people or genderqueer people but, that does not stop me from wanting to support and understand them. Though I cannot truly understand any transgender experience, I try to empathize as best I can. I have sought out stories of transgender people on social media. Through that I have learned of the traumas people have faced. Such as not going to the bathroom and/or normalizing lower stomach pain to not have to face looks of aggression from other people. As a cis-woman I don’t share that experience. However as a woman of color, it makes me think about times I have been shunned in classrooms for simply being me.

Though the two situations aren’t the same, I believe they are parallel. I can understand the discomfort that stems from being rejected in a place where you have the same goal as everyone else. Just as I don’t want my community of women of color to feel discomfort in a place they belong in, I don’t want any other minority group rejected from places they belong in. In this time of elections, which I would argue matter more due to our current political climate, I feel the need to vote for the rights of others. Let me be explicit, I want transgender and genderqueer people to feel safe going anywhere public. I would go as far as to say that with Senate Bill 2407 I  feel safer in the bathroom and in any other public space knowing that my transgender and genderqueer peers have legal support in their existence.

I realize explaining my stance to liberals is essentially preaching to the choir and therefore does nothing to change the minds of no-leaning people. So what can we, yes-voters, do about that? How can we help people see the humanity in people different than them? I believe one thing we can do is reach out to the American in voters. The United States prides itself on being a land of equal opportunity. This is particularly visible in the American Dream. We, Americans, must keep ourselves aligned with our standards of equality for people in this country. In order to better this country we must remain patriotic and provide equal opportunity for our citizens. Repealing Senate Bill 2407 would be an un-American act and defy what we preach in this country.