Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period

12-14-2016

Degree Program

Anthropology

Degree Type

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Year Degree Awarded

2017

Month Degree Awarded

February

Advisor Name

Amanda

Advisor Middle Initial

Walker

Advisor Last Name

Johnson

Co-advisor Name

Jen

Co-advisor Last Name

Sandler

Third Advisor Name

Ventura

Third Advisor Middle Initial

R.

Third Advisor Last Name

Perez

Abstract

The town of Amherst, Massachusetts is home to the flagship campus of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst College, and Hampshire College, institutions that have greatly influenced the town’s prolific history of political activism as well as the high educational attainment and economic status of the majority of its residents. Often hailed as a liberal utopia, research on the political mobilization occurring in this town provides insight into the process and limitations of ally politics: when most of the residents of Amherst are White, how do they engage in racial justice activism? When most of the residents are wealthy and/or highly educated, how do they engage in challenges to capitalism’s structural inequalities?

In this thesis, I approach these questions by examining the political mobilization process of myself and others in three organizations: Coming Together, Re-Evaluation Counseling (RC), and the student organization, UMass Alliance for Community Transformation (UACT). I explore how Coming Together focused on antiracism in a process of focused personal reflection about racial identity and personal antiracism practices, and how that process silenced the people of color in the organization, was vii detrimental to my own mental health, and demobilized many potential-activists. In an effort to understand this organization better, I explore the practices of personal reflection and the vision of social change in RC, an organization which greatly influenced Coming Together. I argue that the more holistic and rigorous personal reflection in RC was more empowering, although taxing of energy. Finally, I contrast these experiences with the political mobilization I experienced in the UACT introductory course, Grassroots Community Organizing (GCO). I argue that the ongoing facilitation in critical personal reflection, relationship- and community-building, and practice in activism work in GCO was politically mobilizing and simultaneously produced a community culture of anti oppression. Ultimately, this thesis argues that effective activism against racism requires activism against capitalism, and vice-versa, and that highly intentional anti-oppression community-building can denaturalize, and mobilize participants against, the capitalist ideologies of alienation and competition. In order to do this comparative work, I rely heavily on the methods of participation observation and, rooted in Black feminist anthropology, autoethnography.

First Advisor

Amanda Walker Johnson

Second Advisor

Jen Sandler

Third Advisor

Ventura R. Perez