On Jan. 30, three black students at SUNY Albany reported to police that a group of white men hurled racial slurs at them as they rode a city bus. Their accusations immediately went viral on social media, prompting the university to organize a rally demonstrating their commitment to inclusion and their support of the girls. However, authorities released video of the episode in the following weeks and declared that the allegations were false. The video allegedly shows that the students were the aggressors instead, physically assaulting other bus riders. The women pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor assault charges at an arraignment earlier this week.
While the incident originally sparked divisive discussion online, the disclosure has provoked markedly explosive backlash. Officials are continuing to investigate the unclear video, but there is no doubt that the activist community suffered a blow as a result of the episode. Despite an endless supply of recent examples to back activists’ message — including a multitude of death threats and references to lynching that surfaced after the revelations — opponents seized this opportunity to denounce not only the students, but the entire movement. Conservatives demanded apologies from public figures who issued their support to the women initially, figures that include Hillary Clinton and university President Robert Jones.
The unfortunate side-effect of the allegations, whether true or not, is that it adds to the arsenal of those looking for reasons to detract from the discourse on prejudice. There remains a steady contingent of voices who assert that there is nothing wrong with the status quo. Take, for instance, the issue of false rape claims — despite how infrequently they actually occur, victim-blamers have taken those claims and spun them into norms, making it that much harder for legitimate victims to have their stories taken seriously. The SUNY Albany incident is based on the same principle, that the larger movement supporting the three women has found itself in a sticky situation despite having very legitimate disagreements with the treatment of minorities in public spaces.
This is important to consider in terms of the narrative of racial inequity in the United States. There has been an uprising that seeks seeks to use honest dialogue to address the everyday racism that many are content to brush aside. Social movements, such as Black Lives Matter, need all the help they can get if they are to make real, tangible change. Unfortunately, they find themselves hampered by one or two instances of bad behavior. However, the reality of the situation is that every group of people has its bad eggs — to dismiss valid critiques on account of these incidents is unreasonable and misses the point. While the evidence may be shaky, the underlying cause for concern is not. People of color still have an uphill battle to fight, and nobody knows that better than they do.
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