In early April, Newtowners on social media rallied around a hawk that had been cruelly shot with an arrow. In one online post, 614 of us “liked” or “loved” that the hawk had been captured and was being treated. He was lifted in prayer by many and monetary contributions were collected for his care. Later that month Luna, a little dog from Danbury, escaped on a stormy afternoon in Newtown while accompanying her owner here on a job. Newtowners searched for her, prayed for her, worried about her, and woke up wondering if she had been found. Well, the hawk is healing and Luna was found! How great I felt about living in this special town, where we all care so much!
Then I was confronted with a reality check. I was part of a discussion in another online group in which several members reported having witnessed racist behavior by a local restaurant owner. Shortly thereafter, in the same social media group that had rallied around the hawk and lost dog, someone asked where they might find the best breakfast sandwich in town. The racist behavior of the aforementioned business owner was brought up again. Excuses were made (“He’s just rude” “He doesn’t have a filter”). Others said he treated them just fine. Some wanted more details about what had happened; most just wanted to talk about breakfast sandwiches.
It was an open secret that a local business owner uses racist language in front of white customers. What does tolerating and keeping that fact quiet say about us?
Allyship includes being prepared to speak up immediately upon witnessing a racially problematic incident and reporting it as soon as possible. No, this is not “cancel culture.” This is about the physical and emotional safety of our residents of color. It is critical that they be aware of the local businesses where they (and their children!) are most likely to be exposed to racist behavior by owners or employees.
To be an ally to BIPOC Newtowners, we white residents need to be accurate when describing or reporting racist or discriminatory conduct. If a business owner uses racist language, it’s not enough to report that he’s “rude.”
I ask local business owners to give serious thought to putting Black Lives Matter signs in your storefront windows. It would be a clear way of indicating that residents of color will be welcomed, valued, and respected in your space.
We have a race problem in Newtown. White Newtowners can help by educating ourselves and actively working for change.
I hope that we will be willing to demonstrate with words and actions that we cherish the humanity of all of our neighbors; that all are beloved members of this community. We know that our town is capable of quickly uniting together around an injured hawk or lost dog. I’d like to see that same sense of urgency when it comes to our brothers and sisters of color.
Published 5/6/21, The Newtown Bee