Letter to the Editor: Town leaders should clarify ‘racism’

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In response to the Aug. 5 article “Select Board Addresses Social Issues,” I urge leaders in Hopkinton to clarify their definition of racism. Board member [Brendan] Tedstone said, “There are outliers where there are isolated cases — and maybe more than isolated, maybe a couple of cases of racism or bullying or whatever you have out there. They may exist.” However, by most contemporary definitions of racism, it is, indeed, systemic. It is not limited to individual acts or personal opinion. I recommend Robin DiAngelo’s definition in the book “White Fragility”: “Racism occurs when a racial group’s prejudice is backed by legal authority and institutional control … a far-reaching system that no longer depends on the good intentions of individual actors; it becomes the default of the society and is reproduced automatically.” If we adopt a common understanding of racism, recognizing it is interwoven throughout our institutions, then we can focus our energies on addressing it, rather than debate its presence.

Where is the racism? One inherent result of oppressive systems like racism is they are normalized; we have been enculturated not to see them. Board member Brian Herr said, “There might be systemic racism somewhere in our community we don’t even know and see.” Board member Irfan Nasrullah said, “I don’t see a problem here in Hopkinton with systemic racism. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.” To be the most welcoming community, we need to understand how racism works. For example, in Hopkinton children regularly have access to teachers, counselors, coaches, librarians, public officials, public service providers and medical personnel who are white. On teams and in clubs, white children will rarely experience being the token white child. Communities like Hopkinton then give those of us who are white a “level of racial relaxation and emotional and intellectual space that people of color are not afforded as they move through their day” (DiAngelo). This is just one way racism works systematically in Hopkinton.

When we acknowledge racism is part of the fabric of our lives and institutions, we are freed to take active responsibility to counter it. If the Select Board is unable to endorse movements or groups like Black Lives Matter, it could start with a common understanding of racism’s systematic nature and then support our organizations and departments to recognize its impact on the people of Hopkinton and work for change.

— Charissa Ahlstrom, Hopkinton

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