Racism, bias, and intolerance have no place in Wellesley. We welcome the Select Board’s new Anti-Racist and Anti-Bias Statement and honor its Tolerance Pledge. We embrace anti-racism rooted in the dignity of the person and our common humanity.
Unite Wellesley strived to be a positive and respectful voice of opposition to Question 1. Our campaign experienced both support and criticism on social media over our position on retaining Columbus Day. This is not atypical for political campaigns. It meant that our message struck a nerve.
We also observed what can only be described as the reckless use of the word “racist” by some who disagreed with our position on Question 1. Here are a few examples out of many from social media and beyond.
A Facebook salvo read: “What Unite Wellesley is is a racist grabbing at straws to prevent the celebration of a community of color.” The commenter accused us of: a “racist attack,” making “sure that brown people stay in the shadows,” and a “disgusting mock of Black Lives Matter.” They further suggested that we rename our group “Keep Wellesley White.”
Since when does having the moral courage to stand up for one’s Italian American heritage constitute racism or white supremacy? And who gets to decide what’s “racist?”
In February, the World of Wellesley accused an African American candidate for the Select Board of racism. The reason given was the candidate’s speaking up in support of Article 43 at Annual Town Meeting eight months earlier. It overlooked her more recent public statements on Question 1. Article 43 proposed the compromise of renaming Columbus Day to Italian American Heritage Day and honoring Indigenous Peoples in November. Not only was the candidate denounced for “racism” on WOW's website and in a town-wide e-mail, she was also denounced publicly by a WOW leader at the Select Board’s special diversity meeting.
Since when does exercising one’s right of free speech to disagree respectfully with an organization’s political position constitute “racism?”
This was the second time that this individual was punished for speaking her truth. The first time occurred in June, when another WOW leader removed her from their Black Lives Matter committee for speaking up in favor of the Article 43 compromise as a private citizen. Shortly thereafter, a friend of this individual was called a “racist” for bringing this unfortunate incident to the attention of others.
Since when does the word “racist” apply to a white person trying to help a person of color?
On another Facebook entry, a commenter was outed as a “Trump supporter” and labeled a “racist” by another commenter.
Since when is one’s political affiliation - whether actual or perceived - grounds for being called a “racist?”
So, we have to ask the question. Is the word “racist” becoming a new form of political hate speech? It has been wielded by some to shame, intimidate, and hurt those who disagree with Question 1. Used in this way, the word “racist” misrepresents Wellesley’s Anti-Racism and Anti-Bias Statement; flouts the Tolerance Pledge; and is tantamount to a racial or ethnic slur. It is divisive all the way around.
Criticizing the social, cultural, or political values of those with whom we disagree - whether it be Columbus Day or other issues - will only intensify divisions in our community and hamper the Town’s anti-racism and civil discourse initiatives. Instead, let’s acknowledge our differences and practice tolerance when our values conflict.
During his recent, groundbreaking visit to Iraq, Pope Francis proposed a national day of tolerance and coexistence to that divided country. We are not suggesting that the Holy See broker a solution in Wellesley, but a day of tolerance and coexistence would go a long way toward promoting tolerance when our ideologies and values do not align. We encourage everyone to read the Select Board’s Tolerance Pledge and take it to heart. We encourage compromise whenever possible.
Question 1 revealed a closely divided electorate on this hot button issue. The final town-wide vote of 49% Yes (2,358) votes, 43% No (2,057) votes, and 8% abstaining (374) non-votes is certainly not compelling. Nor does it represent a majority of “yes” votes. What it does reflect very clearly are deeply-held values on both sides of Question 1.
We ask that the Select Board consider this information carefully before they vote on whether to replace a holiday that is significant to Wellesley’s large Italian American community. About 28 persons in Wellesley self-identify as Native American, per the most recent U.S. census data available. Plus, Indigenous Peoples already have a national civil holiday within an entire month dedicated to their heritage.
Going forward, we must honor all cultures and respect our differences if Wellesley is to be a truly united and welcoming community. We encourage others who care about our town to exercise their free speech wisely and with tolerance and respect. To learn more, we encourage you to check out these organizations: Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) at https://www.fairforall.org and 1776 Unites at https://1776unites.com