I was horrified to see what happened last week, at the Newton community meeting that Mayor Warren and school officials organized to discuss prejudice in Newton in the schools and in the community. Yes, there were anti-Jewish incidents, and yes, Principal Turner was wrong not to address those openly and promptly, and yes, those incidents were and are frightening (Turner has apologized, but only time will tell if he can regain the community’s trust).
But it is false to suggest that anti-Jewish prejudice is the only bias among community members here, or that it is the only prejudice our children face in schools. And it is wrong to suggest that anti-Jewish incidents are the only ones that should have been discussed at a community meeting.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what a group of adults did. They disrupted the meeting by insisting that only anti-Jewish (or anti-Semitic) incidents be discussed at the meeting. According to the Boston Globe, they loudly and forcefully protested. And worse, they heckled and harassed people who spoke about other instances of prejudice and other types of prejudice (article). This is shameful.
Speaking up about prejudice that you or a loved one has faced takes courage. Everyone who did so, or does so, should be praised for their bravery. If we can’t openly discuss the biases that we’ve faced, and discuss the forms that prejudice takes, we will fail at working to overcome them. The protesters and hecklers should be embarrassed, and should apologize – not just with a written apology, but by joining with the community to build alliances and bridges, so that we can make progress toward overcoming multiple prejudices.
This is not a new story in Newton: when I was a student at Newton North, there were racially-charged incidents and fights, and other incidents of prejudice, and we had all-school meetings to address prejudice and work towards building a stronger community. There will always be work to do on this front, everywhere.
The silver lining in this story is the response from other members of our community. Mayor Warren sent an email to the community (article), and Newton Schools Superintendent Fleishman sent an email to school faculty (article), discussing the need for open communication about prejudice, and next steps planned.
But more importantly, the response by current high school students –including this video and what students said at the community meeting last week – fills me with hope. If high school students have the wisdom, decency, and moral courage to see that we must be able to discuss all prejudice to have a chance of overcoming any, then hopefully the adults will learn from their example.