To the Editor:

“Get Involved Easton” distributed a mailing which voiced concern over a petition and document submitted by over 500 Barlow graduates and efforts by the Board of Selectmen and Region 9 Board of Education to address “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”

Incredible as it seems given the increase in hate crimes reported by the FBI and Justice Department and the murder (not just an “issue” as designated in the pamphlet) of George Floyd (and Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, etc. — far too many to name, although I’d like to), the writers deny the existence of systemic racism and call on readers to “Bring your skills to this battle to save our schools and our way of life.”

What is meant by “our way of life” if “diversity, equity, and inclusion” are a problem?

On the first page of the screed, the authors bemoan the “poisonous ideology” being “foisted” on students and citizens as they wonder “What happens to a nation, a state, a community when we forget our common heritage ….”

“Common heritage”? One must howl: it’s a rare white American — or Eastonite — who has a family tree rooted in slavery, choked by Jim Crow, restricted by redlining, and deprived of voting rights, opportunity, and respect because of prejudice. We have to work for the unity that has been elusive while recognizing the terrible injustices of the past… and the present.

The pamphlet’s fear-mongering message was conveyed with classic propaganda techniques: exaggeration, alarming language, and emotionally laden images. Some choices seemed to fight the authors’ message: chained and manacled hands and Martin Luther King pictured with a quote from his “I have a dream” speech. These evoke the struggle of those oppressed due to systemic racism and its origins as opposed to worry over whites being side-lined.

While I was uplifted to learn that so many young people — the Barlow grads behind the petition and Action Steps document — were compelled by their views to act and advocate for a curriculum that more accurately reflects the changing population, culture, and ethnicity of our country and town, the pamphlet’s authors were horrified.

As I read the curriculum possibilities proposed — those deemed “offensive and dangerous” in the pamphlet — overall, I agreed with the spirit and suggestions of the Barlow grads. I applaud them for seeking inclusivity through education. The pamphlet’s authors write about conservative students complaining of a hostile environment at school. Sadly, LGBTQ students and those of color could probably speak to years of harassment, both subtle and overt. No student, ever, should suffer so, and I commend the determination of the Board of Ed and Barlow grads to address that.

The pamphlet warns that the words in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” are in danger of cancellation in the move to recognize the impact of white privilege. Racism was inherent in the lives of the slave-owning Founders; equality was the ideal they challenged posterity to realize. This is OUR responsibility, passed down through generations, and in Easton, our boards and graduates are striving to do that.

While the pamphlet urges vigilance against the “dangerous and divisive behavior” of Barlow graduates seeking awareness and social justice, and questions their means to seek truth, it is hard not to be cynical about the pamphlet’s echoes of the past four years of America’s marination in lies and the drumbeat of distrust of “the other.”

Finally, I go back to the authors’ wish to preserve “our way of life.” It strikes me that the goals of the Easton Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce, as well as those of the 500+ Barlow graduates, are to seek a re-set, a return in the broadest sense to a lesson every child of the fifties learned at home and at school, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” America has failed in that lately; we must strive to live up to the ideals prescribed by the Founders.

 Lea Sylvestro


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