Diversity: A Reflection by Claudia Fox Tree

By Claudia Fox Tree

Claudia Fox Tree, M.Ed. Image (c) The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness
Claudia Fox Tree, M.Ed. Image (c) The Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness

I just came from the follow up public forum about “Anti-Semitic Intolerance for those interested in turning suggestions into actual programs and practices.”  I know Mr. Sills wanted to have break out groups that could take ideas and begin putting them into action, however, it was clear that the folks who came wanted to discuss topics as a large group. Bedford High School students spoke eloquently and many ideas emerged that I’m sure will be communicated to all by the Superintendent.  I wanted to take up one of the suggestions – to write to The Citizen.  There are some related issues, not discussed tonight, that I wanted to highlight.

Given the title of the forum, I am compelled to reiterate that using the word “tolerance” is highly problematic. When it comes to talking (or writing) about diversity, no one wants to be “tolerated”?  In a world of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, heterosexism, able-ism, etc., there are the “Haves” and “Have-not’s.”  And, you can guess in which category the “tolerated” fall.  I would suggest calling these activities what they are, “Anti-Semitic Hate Crime Forums” or “Creating A Place at the Table for All.”

Undoing the impact of the oppression that is connected to an “ism” is complex.  It is not simply about “celebrating diversity” or even “honoring differences.”  That may (or may not) be a good place to start, but it is simply is not enough. One of the few things we can “control” and change immediately to create a better world responsive to cultural differences is our choice of language.  Language has power and we need to be careful and thoughtful with the words we use for they will be heard by others, and they can reinforce oppressions or work toward social change and justice.

A glance around the room, which was quite full, holding a large circle of constituents, revealed a noticeable absence of other marginalized group members from town.  For example, no one spoke up who identified as Muslim, Chinese, Asian Indian, Buddhist, African American, or Thai, to name a few, and I know that these communities are also representative of Bedford.  Why didn’t they come to tonight’s meeting? How many times do people from these groups deal with prejudice, stereotypes, discrimination, etc. related to their group membership, and feel no systemic response? Are there public forums or educational opportunities for them?  We need to consider that responding so publically to anti-Semitism now, may bring up hurtful memories for others who have not seen their issues and concerns addressed in the past.  Perhaps, there needs to be more reaching out to specific groups within the larger community?

As a Native American, my own experience has revealed an uphill battle.  It is difficult to keep educating others about the Native culture while also dealing with racism, at worst, and stereotypes, at best, on a monthly, if not weekly basis.  Just this passed week, one of my children was asked to do “Indian Sprints.” While not a hate crime, as what the Jewish community is currently experiencing, it is an example of how easy it is to say inappropriate and offensive things.  Without education, role-playing, practice, and conversation, “blurts” like this happen over and over again.  Bedford would be remiss in not addressing broader issues of unawareness and perpetuation of stereotypes, given the context of what is currently happening.  This is a wake up call to build allies within our community – active bystanders who speak up on behalf of others and model for the future generations that we are a place that not only responds to differences in culture and celebrates diversity, but does not accept oppression in any of its many forms.

This past fall, Bedford’s Varsity Football team faced Pentucket.  There were racist caricatures of Native Americans via mascots, logos, and stylized non Native music being called Native.  It was awful.  This is not something that would be allowed for other ethnic or racial groups and, yet, it has been so “normalized” within the NFL that there were no forms of protest from Bedford.  The “mascot issue” was problematic enough, however, my football-playing son was also spotlighted by name in a negative way (due to his heritage) in the Cape Cod Times when the Varsity team was about to play on the south shore!  It was through friends and allies that a flood of emails forced the Times to remove the article within hours of its posting.  We have to stand up as one, against all forms of hatred, or fall because we are too divided to come together.

I am concerned that a comparative religion course planned at the high school would highlight three Judeo-Christian religions and Hinduism, but not Buddhism, Confucianism, or more contemporary religions like the Quakers or Baha’i.  I am concerned that students are asking for more conversations and report that teachers aren’t prepared to have them.  I’m concerned that Senior Prom was scheduled on a Jewish holy day this year.

How many times have baked goods been sold during Passover at a school event?  How many times have football games been held on Friday nights?  While not Native American issues, that these events conflict with Jewish traditions reminds me that we have a long way to go in truly opening up a place at the table where everyone can not only share and express their culture, but be able to be present at the table because they can actually attend since it does not conflict with a cultural tradition.  We need to consider a calendar that takes into account conflicts of culture, maybe not every time, but more times than it does now.

I want to close by saying that it is not really the job of the oppressed to educate those with the power to make change.  It is the responsibility of those with the power to educate our/themselves, and respond accordingly, making space for all voices on an equal playing field.  If the “Have’s” aren’t willing to give up some of what they have, then there will always be “Have-nots.”  It’s not as easy as saying, “Work a little harder” or “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  Women have worked really hard, but it was not until that first man in the boardroom hired a woman, giving up being surrounded by his own gender, that women were able to access traditional male dominated occupations.  Have-nots can work as hard as Have’s, but not have the same access without an ally.

Editor’s Note: In order to create a conduit for community conversations, The Bedford Citizen invites residents to share their reflections on issues facing our town, including the spate of anti-Semitism in our schools.We extend that invitation to you: If you have a point of view that you would like to share, please send it to thebedfordcitizen@gmail.com. The only requirement is that writers be willing to post their thoughts using their real name. Comments on posts can still appear under a writer’s pseudonym as long as they are sent from a verifiable email address.


Keep our journalism strong! Support The Citizen Journalism Fund today. Contact The Bedford Citizen: editor@thebedfordcitizen.org or 781-325-8606

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Erin L. McCormack
Erin L. McCormack
8 years ago

This is such a clear and illuminating statement
on current day racism and intolerance in Bedford,
as well as other places in this country.
Diversity is one of our strengths, but it is not achieved without
effort, understanding, and giving up of privilege by those who have benefited
the most and longest

Erin L. McCormack
Erin L. McCormack
8 years ago

This is such a clear and illuminating statement on current day racism and intolerance in Bedford,as well as other places in this country. Diversity is one of our strengths, but it is not achieved without effort, understanding, and giving up of privilege by those who have benefited the most and longest

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