Prejudice in Newton

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.

 

 

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2 Comments on "Prejudice in Newton"

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Lynne LeBlanc
My understanding (though I could be wrong) was that the public forum came on the heels of several anti-Jewish remarks and actions. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake for the Mayor to try to address the scope of all prejudice and discrimination with such an event when anti-Semitic actions were at the forefront of people’s minds. It not does seem at all prudent to mitigate specific offences against Jews by blending them into a “all types of prejudice are bad” night. The scope of any form of racism or sexism or genderism or anything else cannot be addressed in this way. This does a disservice to those with specific grievances because of actual harmful actions. Additionally, there is a strong BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) movement that is ubiquitous on campuses. There are questions about the intent of these groups but it is clear it is a one sided conversation: Israeli Jews are named as oppressors with little sympathy given to their need for self-preservation. My point of bringing this up is that we are in an environment where anti-Semitic speech and actions are on the rise. The concern for the standing of Jews in Newton (and the world) was not considered in a vacuum. It is one that elicits strong emotions and sentiments on both sides but it is also a concern that deserves full consideration. My final point: Protesters may have been rude and disruptive but, as I have said elsewhere about this event, I cannot imagine… Read more »
Evan Jacobi
I recently joined the Forum and just saw this post. I appreciate you weighing in on this, Lynne, and I have some things to add. The OP wasn’t at the meeting, and IMHO, has no cause to negatively portray an event he admittedly did not attend. Newspapers are not always accurate in what they print; in this case, the Globe’s report was inaccurate to the point of being fictional. No one was heckled and no one was harassed. ONE person did attempt to interrupt an African-American woman who spoke movingly about her son’s experience with racism. The crowd stopped the would-be interrupter so she could speak. A video of the meeting is at http://www.newtonma.gov/gov/executive/livestream/. The relevant episode is at 1 hour 33 minutes. A very different, and I believe more accurate, account of the meeting is the attached Jewish Journal article “Manufacturing a Discrimination Meeting…”. BTW, the reason some of the crowd thought the meeting was supposed to be about antisemitism was that two emails were circulated. One, sent to parents of Newton students, said the meeting was about ‘prejudice and bias’. It seems that not many people received that email. The folks from the Mayor’s office were astounded that so many people showed up. The other email was from Charles Jacobs of Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT). Jacob’s email, which was widely circulated, incorrectly implied that the meeting WAS about antisemitism. Also attached is the front page of the Journal, which relates to Lynne’s post, and an editorial… Read more »