Letter: Addressing racism in ourselves, our town

To the Editor:

While home to decorate our Christmas tree, I read the Press article about a racist photo circulated through RHS. I’m 25 years old and no longer live in Ridgefield (like many of my peers I went away for college, and now live in NYC), but I spent my entire childhood here.

In the article, a courageous student of color at RHS said: “I feel like there’s a lot of kids who know absolutely nothing about African-American culture. All they know is we went through slavery and then we got rights.”

This speaks to my perceptions in middle and high school. I knew that slavery and racism were awful but believed it was in our long-ago past (and only in the South!). Any lingering racism lived within the hateful hearts of a few individuals. This limited understanding was reinforced, mostly by omission, throughout my education in middle and high school, and was a perspective shared by many of my peers.

While this incident brought to light the presence of racism in our community, it also unfairly burdens a handful of people of color in our majority white town with the job of re-educating us about racism. The fact that many white students at RHS still use the “N-word” demonstrates a crisis in our community.

Our young people certainly have the empathy and intelligence to learn about racism! Are students encouraged to think critically about racial and economic privilege, specifically regarding segregation in Fairfield County? Are they exposed to discriminatory policies in housing (such as redlining) and inequities in our criminal justice system? These are essential elements of an exceptional education.

I encourage all of us to support school administrators when they make a stand to combat discrimination, bias, systemic racism, and hatred in all its forms.

Jim Hannigan

Ridgewood Road, Dec. 18