At the recent April 5th Board of Ed meeting, a man spoke during public participation. Referring to racism in Newtown, he said, “it’s not like this is 1960’s Alabama” and that “most of Newtown is filled with very nice people, and only 10% are racist and bigoted.”
I have no idea if this 10% statistic is correct, and something tells me the man who spewed it out doesn’t know either, but let’s talk about it. Why would anyone be OK with this? What if only ten% of Newtown were serial killers or sex offenders? No one would be fine with that just like no one should be OK with 10% being bigoted.
Now let’s look at his comment about how Newtown is not 1960’s Alabama. What made 1960’s Alabama so racist?
While segregation legally ended in 1964 with the Civil Rights Act, that didn’t stop many angry white people from treating Black Americans unfairly and applying laws unequally. Even though Alabama now had a law that required them to allow a Black customer to sit at the counter of a restaurant, nothing stopped the waiter from looking past the Black customer who was first in line and instead sitting the white customer behind them because they “had their hand raised in the back.”
This exact thing happened just this week at the Board of Ed meeting.
When the Chair asked if anyone wanted to speak, a Black woman started walking up to the podium. When she was halfway there, the Chair told her to sit down and that “the gentleman in the back had his hand raised so he gets to go first” (yes, the same man who read the statistics above).
To those who have never been to a meeting, this may not seem odd, but in the past year of my attending every meeting, no one has ever raised their hand to speak during public participation. The protocol has been to walk up to the podium and talk in the order that you get there. Looking past the Black woman who was obviously ready to speak and asking the white man with his hand raised to go ahead of her certainly sounds a lot like the 1960’s Alabama restaurant example above.
Furthermore, the Chair also has a very strict rule in place that does not allow addressing another member of the public during public participation. This is so that the public can feel comfortable speaking and prevent intimidation.
After the Chair made the Black woman sit back down and allowed the white man to go first, the man laughed and said to the Black woman, “you have to be quicker than that,” breaking the Chair’s rule. But did the Chair reprimand him for breaking the rule? No, she instead agreed with his rude comment and allowed him to start his speech.
The way the rules were applied to these two individuals was clearly different, and we need to ask ourselves why.
Published 4/8/22, The Newtown Bee