Being brown at Amherst is hard; being brown anywhere is pretty fucking difficult. Pardon my language but when it comes to past wrongs, it tends to be that only those in power preach patience and humility.
We can recognize the full history of Lord Jeffery Amherst and the college itself or ignore it and uphold a figure who flies in the face of everything Amherst proclaims to be. We are all students here, people who worked hard, balanced 500+ extracurricular activities and got lucky and were admitted. We will carry the Amherst name and all the prestige and problems it entails.
Jeffery Amherst was a man who was never officially declared mascot of Amherst College; he was adopted informally because of a popular song. (Buy your Lord Jeff doll here) He is only the namesake of the town for which the college was named after. This is our actual, tenuous association to this man; nostalgia and a misguided attempt for a solid figure to embody school spirit. This sacred tradition isn’t real.
Lord Amherst was an unsavory figure who committed overt acts of genocide. This is a war criminal, a man who innovated crimes against humanity. To remember Amherst solely by the blanket incident is to reduce his virulent, anti-Native American stance. Amherst despised Native Americans and wanted to decimate every one of them. He targeted a population that has been systematically mistreated and abused by the U.S. government, an abuse that continues to this very day, to this very moment. This is why we don’t care, why we’ve ignored this embarrassment for so long because these inequalities have persisted throughout our history and pushed the marginalized further away from our gaze. It isn’t the past.
Why do I like the moose? I don’t know. It’s a dangerous, ugly beast (although it’s an animal that is native to New England) but give me a blowfish, an ant, an evergreen over a man who planned and desired nothing more than the mass death of Native Americans. Another reason to like the moose? We’d finally add some color to our pantheon of whiteness.
I’d like to bring light to an incident that happened in either the 1960s or 70s. In Amherst legend, a drama troupe that was invited by a student group saw the china that Amherst used and caused a student riot. This is a rumor that was later retold to me by alum who claimed he and his fellow student workers smashed these plates. The china has a lovely purple sketch of Lord Jeff hunting a group of Native Americans, a design especially created for Amherst College. The dishes were used for a number of years until this troupe (in Amherst memory), outraged at the genocidal acts so carelessly depicted, smashed them. I like to think that Amherst students rose up in some newly awakened compassion and fury but the plates were not removed because of anger or regret or any particular action. They were phased out quietly and now lurk in the Archives and Special Collections and the Mead Art Collection.
It was general apathy and obliviousness to horror that allowed these plates to linger on. Students saw them and ate off them every day; I cannot deny that these were inevitably different times; the college did not admit women, we did not yet have a Black Studies department, we hadn’t divested from South Africa. Now, we shudder away from the things we did then. We espouse a belief in tolerance, a belief that everyone is welcomed here. But we emblazon ourselves with a man drenched in blood. The time has come, for everyone be they Native American, white, rich, or poor, to smash the plates.
Please, smash the thing to pieces.