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Reports of racism, misogyny addressed at Select Board meeting

by | May 1, 2024 | Featured: News, News

The topic of racism emerged during the public comment period of Tuesday night’s Select Board meeting, as several residents spoke out in support of vice chair Shahidul Mannan and outgoing member Irfan Nasrullah. The two men of color on the board said they have experienced racist and culturally offensive comments as well as being accused of misogynistic behavior in a local blog.

The comments Tuesday evening were made in response to Mannan’s statement at the April 16 meeting. Mannan said he “endured threats, harassment and racial profiling” over the past several months, including during an interaction involving his family and a resident questioning “if and why I’m still living in this town.”

Mannan also made a comment regarding the “local media,” which he later clarified to the Independent was directed at the HopNews website.

On April 4, HopNews had posted an opinion piece titled “Enough mansplaining already” that called out Mannan and Nasrullah for what HopNews owner/editor Peter Thomas deemed disrespectful behavior toward chair Muriel Kramer at the April 2 Select Board meeting. This sparked an exchange of letters from attorneys, with town counsel denying the HopNews attorney’s request for a public apology from Mannan. That letter admonished the HopNews attorney for the “tone and tenor of your demand” as well as the validity of the case.

Kramer began the meeting with a statement against systemic racism and in support of Mannan.

“Every incident is hurtful and damaging to us all,” she said. “And it is up to all of us to stand in solidarity and support when people experience harmful racist acts intended to exclude.”

Stressed Kramer: “We are a community dedicated to inclusion, and yes, we have a long way to go.”

She added that the Hopkinton Public Library also sent out an inclusionary statement last week.

Nasrullah commented on the HopNews piece and a racially biased comment on the HopNews Facebook page that followed that article.

“While I believe in freedom of the press, I am completely comfortable being criticized over my decisions and actions and even if you simply find me tiresome,” he explained. “However, I find it disappointing that the article focused on myself and Shahidul without even explaining that the chair’s line of questioning was interrupted by [Select Board member] Mary Jo [LaFreniere]. … I don’t want to speculate as to the author’s motivations, but there was certainly more to the story.”

He added that he was offended by the Facebook comment that he and Mannan were born in countries with misogynistic values.

“Please don’t insult my culture with ignorant statements,” said Nasrullah. “I’m very proud of my culture and heritage. Women are not treated like third-class citizens in either Pakistan or Bangladesh.”

He pointed out that in his and Mannan’s respective homelands, women have served as prime ministers. He contrasted that with America’s history of only having one major party presidential candidate — Hillary Clinton — who lost her race to Donald Trump, who “was recently found liable for sexual assault.”

Nasiba Mannan, Shahidul Mannan’s wife and the Board of Health vice chair, spoke about accusations made in the HopNews piece about “mansplaining and being culturally insensitive.”

“Such accusations are not only wrong but are also biased,” she said. “When people of color speak out, they are often shut down conveniently by being unfairly labeled. This tactic aims to undermine their ability to voice their concerns and their opinions.”

She noted that her native Bangladesh is “governed by a female prime minister, a female minority leader and a female speaker of the house.”

While she called criticism of acts in public office “fair game,” she said the accusations “were both inaccurate and wrong.”

Charusmitha Ram said the article previously referenced “grossly mischaracterized the exchange that took place.” After reading the article and watching this and other Select Board meetings, she said she saw no displays of misogyny.

Added Ram: “I hope other people who share my opinion will come out and speak about this openly.”

Muneeza Nasrullah, Irfan Nasrullah’s wife, made a brief statement to the board.

“I just wanted to be a little present here and say, ‘Look at us,’ ” she said. “Look at Nasiba. Do we look like we are bullied in any way and have husbands who are misogynistic?”

Members Amy Ritterbusch and LaFreniere also spoke in support of their colleagues. LaFreniere added that she experienced a slashed car tire since the last meeting.

Shahidul Mannan thanked the community for its support during this challenging period. He urged the community “to move forward as one Hopkinton” while working on the “uncomfortable but very important issue of racial discrimination in Hopkinton.”

‘Racially motivated incidents’ at schools addressed

Earlier in the day, Hopkinton Public Schools Superintendent Carol Cavanaugh addressed two “racially motivated incidents” that occurred Monday. In an email to the school community, she stated that “a threatening message” was written on the back of a school bus seat “using the n-word.” It was erased by the driver before picking up Marathon and Hopkins students and was believed to have occurred during the earlier run to the middle and high schools.

On Monday afternoon, school personnel discovered two swastikas that appeared to be drawn by someone’s finger on a storage unit door behind the high school, as well as “the n-word,” according to Cavanaugh. These events are under investigation.

Shortly before the Select Board meeting, interim Town Manager Elaine Lazarus issued a statement on behalf of Hopkinton’s town employees recommitting to the town’s 2020 pledge regarding systemic racism. The pledge affirmed Hopkinton’s commitment to address systemic racism, social injustice and inequity in governance and the provision of services to Hopkinton residences and businesses.

“The disturbing reports brought to light by Select Board vice chair Shahidul Mannan regarding racism faced by him and his family in the community has served as a reminder of this commitment,” Lazarus stated. “The conversation started by vice chair Mannan has merit, and it reminds us that the work of ensuring that our communities are safe, secure and welcoming for all remains ongoing. We take our responsibility seriously.”

Lazarus added her signature to the 2020 pledge. She also reminded “all residents, business owners and visitors of the values set forth in the Hopkinton Town Charter.” The town charter states:

“The Town of Hopkinton welcomes residents of all races, ethnicities, religions, abilities, gender identifications and sexual orientations; the Town of Hopkinton, further, is committed to providing a climate of safety and acceptance to all residents. The Town of Hopkinton will actively address and resist acts of discrimination, bullying, or intimidation.”

During the meeting, Kramer asked her board colleagues to reaffirm their commitment to that pledge. The pledge’s principles will be placed in a more prominent position of the town website’s Select Board page.

2 Comments

  1. Chris Swezey

    Thank you for your factual and unbiased local news. Also, thank you to the Town’s attorney for putting a quick end to this petty threat.

    Reply
  2. Peter LaGoy

    In my opinion, the press holds an important position as the “Fourth Estate,” with responsibility to serve as a watchdog on government. In that regard, I’m disappointed by the Independent’s coverage of this week’s Select Board meeting, which was addressed in two articles. As an aside, I’d also note that accuracy in reporting is important. In the article above, reference is made to a clearly racist comment being made on the HopNews website, when in fact, that comment was on a Facebook page. That inaccuracy was corrected by the town’s attorney and should not have been repeated here.

    More importantly, there were three other commenters who spoke, and their messages are not transmitted.

    I spoke about an upcoming forum on Dogs on Trails, a contentious issue at last year’s town meeting. A main point in presenting was to invite the Select Board to attend; none took that opportunity.

    Two others spoke of their disappointment with the governance by this Select Board over the past year. Such concerns about governance are clearly something that the Fourth Estate, in its role as watchdog, should address. Yet there was no mention of these comments.

    Hopkinton, and its government, is a great town but not a perfect town. We should be striving, always, to do better. Part of the process is making the public aware of issues, even if to do so is uncomfortable. The Independent, available to each home in Hopkinton, is a fourth estate member with a duty, in my opinion, to provide that information.

    Reply

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