During the Dec. 14 District School Committee meeting, Joseph Pires, an elected representative of the Old Rochester School District, made comments during the Equity Subcommittee report proposing that hate speech directed at members of his community be elevated to public discourse and considered when shaping district policy.
This is appalling. The argument that all voices need to be heard — no matter how bigoted, homophobic, outlandish, or lacking in factual basis — is extremely damaging. Our expectation from our elected officials is that hate speech is to be condemned at every opportunity, full stop. Mr. Pires presented a thinly veiled rationale built on bigotry and racism to undermine the years long hard-fought efforts made by this community to ensure that school administrators and educators engage in long overdue diversity, equity, and inclusion work in the Old Rochester Regional School District.
When marginalized members of the community who have tirelessly advocated to bring to our collective attention the need to be provided with basic human dignity in our school community are called out for a lack of inclusion and equity, that is a cruel distortion of thought.
Using one’s status as a “minority” to present a singular representative experience of marginalized groups in the Tri-Town, that also grants absolute authority and expertise to represent every concern of members of a protected class, is preposterous. These groups are not a monolith. It also should be noted that folks who use parts of their identity as a shield against criticisms or weapons to attack others, particularly when they are trying to speak or be heard, are not champions for Equity.
Equity is the process of ensuring that practices and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal possible outcomes for every individual. Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that members of the community feel comfortable showing up as their authentic and best self. Diversity is the presence of differences within a given setting. In this community, that can mean differences in race, religion, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age and socioeconomic class. It can also refer to differences in physical ability, veteran status, whether or not you have children — all of those are components of diversity.
From debates implying that speaking about racism breeds more racism, to claiming that students are afraid to use restrooms due to the risk of being attacked by trans students, those on the fringes of public debate are forcing their opinions to be validated. In doing so they are polarizing the conversation and preventing any real progress of compromise from being made. If we must listen to everyone, and acknowledge the validity of their opinions, then taking any sort of action that might disagree with them becomes impossible. Especially when these people present themselves as the victim at the slightest pushback.
Of course, everyone is entitled to have his or her own thoughts and opinions, even irrational ones, but if we want to have real, meaningful discussions about important issues that move toward some sort of truth, we need to condemn hate speech and remove from the discourse those who do not contribute to the discussion with facts and logical arguments.
Frances-Feliz and Thomas Kearns are residents of Mattapoisett.
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