standing Letters

I have been following the Westerly School Committee with great interest. Recently at a School Committee meeting where the equity audit was explained and discussed there were continued negative comments from a few citizens which has continued on social media.

I appreciate the rights of every citizen to voice their opinion and to be heard but I do not consider name-calling and rude remarks in a public forum appropriate for anyone who wants to be taken seriously. The issue of race, not only in Westerly but in America, is a deeply complex and emotionally charged topic. It is not easy to discuss, understand or feel comfortable sharing. Learning the truth about slavery, indigenous genocide and mistreatment of “the other” is painful.

While we can all relate to some form of discrimination it is too easy for us to brush off someone else’s feelings or perceptions. My grandparents were Italian immigrants and faced discrimination, as did the Irish. Thankfully this is a thing of the past; not so for the racism that remains against our BIPOC brothers and sisters. Sad as that time was for my grandparents it pales in comparison to the 400-plus years of brutal discrimination and violence that still exists. Until we understand how this history is embedded in systems we have today we will not heal and have a nation where there is freedom and liberty for all. We must study our history in a truthful way or it will continue to repeat itself.

We cannot minimize this fact, pretend it has gone away, because “everyone gets along in Westerly” or “Blacks and whites are treated the same in Westerly.” While we celebrate the times this happens it is not the whole story and it does not mean that the problems are solved or that systemic racism doesn’t exist. When anyone shares their story of discrimination we should listen and respect that person’s experience. To discount, ridicule or deny these feelings is another example of prejudice.

I grew up in the 1950s when Jim Crow laws were still in place. Blacks were marginalized and depicted as untrustworthy, vile and dangerous. Brutality was commonplace. I continue to learn so as to liberate myself from my socialization and the weight of the culture I was born into. That culture taught me to fear the other, to keep to my own kind, to feel superior because of my race/social class/religion etc. It’s not easy to shed these old values as I learn to see all humanity as one.

Many people love to quote the Bible and talk about God as being on their side. As a lifelong Catholic I constantly strive to follow the teachings of Jesus, who never discriminated against anyone, who welcomed the stranger, the outcasts and society’s “losers.” Make room in your hearts to see and hear the other person’s story, speak with kindness, walk in their shoes for a moment and work for a better world for everyone just as Jesus taught.

Madeline Labriola


The writer is the chairperson of the Westerly Area Peace and Justice Climate Committee.

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