A year has passed since George Floyd’s murder spurred our nation into a great reckoning. Matters of racial justice, diversity, equity and inclusion rose to the forefront of discussion in churches, corporations, schools, and municipalities across the country. Suffield wasn’t an exception.
For years I’ve known that Suffield has had an inclusivity problem. Black friends get the side-eye and are sometimes even followed at local shops. Gay kids feel isolated and unsupported. People make (unintentionally) crude remarks about multiracial, multicultural families. Asian families face hate speech as they go about their daily lives. Muslim and Jewish friends alike worry about becoming targets and wonder who really has their backs.
As a predominantly well-meaning white, Christian, cishet, community, we are not well versed in what inclusion looks and feels like. We can’t be, because by and large we aren’t closely associated with (nevermind an actual part of) any historically marginalized or oppressed groups. Collectively, we lack the knowledge and perspective required to evaluate inclusivity.
Through my work with both ABAR Suffield and the Suffield Public Schools Diversity, Equity and Inclusion council, I’ve been witness to many discussions and debates that lack urgently important perspectives, sometimes because the people we need to hear from just aren’t at the proverbial table, and sometimes because hierarchies, social structures, and norms function to suppress marginalized voices while elevating those already in positions of power.
I’ve seen numerous very well-meaning people join – or even try to lead – discussions about diversity, equity, and inclusion assuming that they arrived at the conversation with all the information they needed. Their lack of curiosity coupled with their tendency to defend their position and power cripples our efforts to advance. Frustration mounts and tensions grow.
If we really aspire to live up to the inclusivity statement our Board of Selectmen unanimously approved in October, we have to start doing a lot more listening and far less talking. We have to ask ourselves who’s at the table, who isn’t, and why. We have to examine systems, processes, and norms, and think critically about how they advance or hinder the goal of inclusivity.
If Suffield is in fact “committed to fair and respectful treatment of all people, enhancement and promotion of inclusivity and diversity, and elimination of racism, discrimination and bias,” then we have to release our idyllic notions of who we are and always have been and open our minds and hearts to change.
Growth is the only way any meaningful change ever comes about. And before we can grow, we need to acknowledge our opportunities. Until we all learn to listen deeply without defensiveness to those among us who are marginalized and oppressed, we’ll never understand where our opportunities lie.
Suffield, we have a problem. But we also have the means to begin to repair it. The choice is ours.
To learn more about ABAR Suffield, please visit the Facebook page of the same name or email us at ABARSuffield@gmail.com.