Reactions to Black Lives Matter Graffiti Mural Covered with "All Lives" at UMass Amherst

On May 6, we spoke to Amilcar Shabazz, Professor of Afro-American Studies at UMass Amherst, Christopher Tinson, Assistant Professor of African American Studies and Mount Holyoke President Lynn Pasquerella about the Black Lives Matter graffiti incident at UMass Amherst.

Members of UMass's Black Student Union (BSU) spent Friday May 1 and Saturday May 2 spray-painting the Central Residential Area wall with a Black Lives Matter mural. After it's completion, the mural stood for roughly 20 hours before an unknown student sprayed "All Lives" over every "Black Lives Matter" tag on the wall.  

"It's tragic," Tinson said. "These messages are trying to tell the black students that they need to get in line.”

Tinson believes that this act occurred due to ignorance surrounding the movement's meaning, "I think instead of trying to understand it [the Black Lives Matter movement] people are trying to tell the movement what it should be.”

"This is a movement where they're trying to ask for some structural changes so that they can live an autonomous life and thrive like everybody else without being exposed to state violence and structural oppression that leads to premature death," Tinson said.  

"Whoever's doing the graffiti over the Black Lives Matter piece is basically trying to tell the students that they want to control the terms of this debate and that to articulate a pro-black stance, or a stance that says we're going to defend black lives specifically, is to the exclusion of everyone else - and that's a problematic view. It's the failure of seeing the humanity in blackness, in black culture, and black people so that something that happens to me doesn't apply to you. That view is anithetical to what Black Lives Matter is all about,” Tinson said. 

Control, Tinson says, is what this comes down to, "The idea of not being in control, being in power, is almost an attack on one's sense of self and so the reaction is to go and defend that. That's what you're seeing with this petty graffiti."

Shabazz said that this type of occurrence is inevitable at such a big university, "It's a big institution, you're going to get knuckleheads."

Shabazz praised UMass for having a diversity requirement, a method of educating students on these issues, that few other universities across the country necessitate, "UMass is unusual in American higher education. Every undergraduate student has a six-credit-hour diversity requirement,” he said.

Shabazz acknowledged that even the UMass diversity requirement has its flaws.

"For example you can take two courses of, let's say, German literature and that can take care of your six-credit-hour in diversity. That may be wonderful, but does it help you understand the knucklehead-ism in our society?"

Pasquerella said that, "we are a microcosm of the broader society in which there are unwritten cultures that really foster this type of behavior," Pasquerella said, citing the University of Oklahoma incident as an example.

"It doesn't matter that the administration and the majority of the student body would be appalled by the behavior of these frat boys - they're still going to engage in it because there is an unwritten racist culture that supports this and celebrates it. They come to school with those ideals and a mindset that encourages them to engage in that behavior," she said. 

By Jim Lyons, New Editor 5/7/2015 

Photo by Sam Bajgot