Every year, at this time of year, the following sequence of events occur, usually in the same order:
- grocery store aisles are rendered impassable by sky-high displays of Ramen Noodle 10-packs.
- Walmart, Target, and Home Depot debut acres of plastic storage boxes and bins.
- Bed, Bath, and Beyond, HomeGoods, and Marshalls are overloaded with “bed-in-a-bag,” whatever that is, promotions.
Ah, the start of a new academic year. For local shopkeeps, it’s Christmas in August. For the rest of us, MMA competitions for in-town parking spaces have begun, and we are reminded once again why we love living in Collegetown, USA.
Even in the dog days of summer, life in Collegetown USA has it unique rewards. I mean, seriously, where else can you pick up the morning paper and read the following on its front page:
Thirty-six women, 19 men and three children sat in silence on the steps of City Hall for almost an hour Monday evening holding in front of them portraits of Michael Brown photocopied in color on plain white paper.
Brown, 18, of Ferguson, Missouri, who a police officer shot dead two weeks ago, was buried earlier in the day. The black youth was unarmed and a preliminary autopsy showed that the white police officer shot him six times, including two bullets to the head.
Kani Brown (no relation), who lives across the street from City Hall, was on his way to buy bedsheets when he passed by the vigil. Given the national furor over the killing and the military-style police response to the ensuing protests, Brown said he was pleased by the peacefulness of the Northampton event. “A good way to call attention to everything is silence,” he said. “Sometimes you forget the actual victim.”
Ellen Graves of West Springfield heard about the vigil at a meeting of anti-foreclosure activists earlier in the day. She was planning to attend a Climate Action meeting at the Unitarian Society next to City Hall. “I rushed up early so I could stand here for a few minutes,” she said.
Graves, who is the office manager and an anti-violence organizer for the Springfield-based group Arise for Social Justice, said the events in Ferguson during the last two weeks have brought national attention to a widespread problem. “I know that a lot of young men of color are being shot by the police, it happens in this country all the time,” she said.
Shanti Gaia said he was moved as he walked past the vigil eating a slice of pizza topped with mushrooms and broccoli. “I like that it’s just a quiet, poignant, visual display,” he said.
Who among us cannot help but be moved by the “poignancy” of the vigil, hallowed as it was by the reverent incense of mozzarella, broccoli, and tomato sauce? Who among us cannot help but be impressed by the peripatetic Miss Graves, who manages to squeeze in participating in the vigil (“for a few minutes,” anyway) and her anti-foreclosure and global warming activities? Hard to beat that social justice trifecta, eh what?
There is nothing I like more than a good vigil on a warm summer night, and in Collegetown, USA we know how to do vigils right. The only person of color in the vicinity is the one pictured on the vigilantes’ placards. Tasteful, understated white privilege at its finest hour.
It’s not just the institutions of higher learning that are race-obsessed; their obsession, like the Blob, oozes out beyond the campus’s perimeter to seep into every corner and crevice of civic life.
Across the river from the scene of the Michael Brown vigil, another racially charged drama has been playing to a captive audience for the better part of a year. The local high school–charged with the unenviable task of educating faculty brats from the dozen or so colleges and universities that surround it–has been a breeding ground for the kind of unbridled racism one expects to find on only the most liberal campuses in the North East. Or Oberlin, of course. The troubles have been so great that the school board hired a Racial Healer to salve the wounds of hurt feelings, insensitivity, and cultural appropriation.
The Healer’s first step toward forging new understanding and greater compassion, and, most importantly, engendering a community-wide sense of paralyzing white guilt, the foundation on which all good race relations are built, was to refuse to discuss her charge on a local radio call-in show.
The Healer explains:
If we are truly serious and genuine about creating a space for progressive and proactive discourse in our community, we have to be committed to authenticity and determined to create an appropriate platform to do so, and not succumb to or encourage sensationalism, rhetoric, impatience or insensitivity to the variety of voices and needs within our community. I believe the administration’s request to postpone, in consideration for inviting expert panelists to provide substance, tangible pathways and proper context was reasonable and speaks to this goal. It also speaks to the administration’s commitment to this effort. My request to refrain from participating in what I felt would be a basic media tactic called race-baiting (as an unfair and misguided attempt to provoke participants), was honored and supported by this administration. This was not an affront to any of the panelists, as [radio host] Mr. Flaherty suggested multiples times, which in and of itself is divisive.
Warming to her subject, the Healer continues:
If Mr. Flaherty was truly committed to the well-being of our community and truly concerned about racism, he would have respected and understood the concerns expressed during our conversation of August 20 about the potential negative impact of conducting a dialog about racism out of context of the larger issues facing us as a community and society, and without expert input regarding tangible pathways that lead to equitable outcomes.
It’s like I always say, nothing gets a discussion intended to bridge gaps and mend behavior off to a better start than impugning the commitments and intentions of those with whom one is “to dialogue.” And heaven forfend one attempt to talk about race without “experts” at the ready to explain why what you said is wrong and tell you what you should say instead.
Only in Collegetown, USA.