My Turn: ‘A lack of diversity stems from a legacy of racism’

  • MIKE WATSON IMAGES

Published: 9/14/2021 4:06:35 PM

It was disappointing to read the column with such a simplistic view of critical race theory (CRT) by two Charlemont members of a regional school committee [“Views on critical race theory,” Sept. 1]. It defied common sense and the legacy of our collective history. The demographics of Charlemont and the other towns of Franklin County alone support the tenets of CRT. They are all overwhelmingly White, and the authors didn’t seem to consider the reason why. The reason for such a lack of diversity stems from a legacy of racism in Massachusetts and The United States. It is also a direct result of exclusionary policies that kept them White for hundreds of years.

Although slavery was deemed illegal in Massachusetts early in our nation’s history, Blacks were also subsequently “warned out” of the towns where they had lived as slaves, including some Franklin County towns, after Whites in those communities no longer benefitted from their oppression. Warning out policies resulted in Blacks being discarded and expelled from certain towns by Whites, because they didn’t want to support them, either with charity or job opportunities, as they did others who were White, indigent members of their community,. So Blacks were often forced to more urban areas, which remains the case today.

Zoning laws are also a legacy of our racist past. They were implemented to keep certain groups out. Massachusetts cities and towns have been employing exclusionary zoning bylaws to prohibit certain types of housing, reinforced by minimum lot size dimensions and other requirements, for over 100 years. Most zoning laws prohibit multi-unit housing in favor of single-family homes to “preserve the look and character of a town”, a look and character historically and currently defined by white people for white people. While perpetuating racism may not be the intention of zoning bylaws today, it is still the effect nevertheless.

Then as now, the wealth and racial disparities between Whites and Blacks makes multi-unit housing easier for Blacks to afford than a single-family home, thereby allowing Blacks and other minorities to take those first steps toward building the wealth that homeownership facilitates. Those ever-increasing disparities are also why the authors’ observation that Whites also suffer from inequities as an argument against CRT is disingenuous. Wealth inequality is a real problem for everyone, but it’s much worse for Black and Brown populations.

Most recently, Charlemont and state officials even took steps to exclude people from tubing down the Deerfield River, a natural resource that should be enjoyed by all without the calculated prohibitions of a municipality. “Live parking only” signs were put in place in a parking lot along Route 2 to mitigate what those who own a house along the river thought of as a nuisance: Too many people on the river. Nobody asked or even cared how the parking prohibition adversely affected those who want to cool off on hot summer days, many of whom were minorities.

The policy may not have been made with a racist intent, but it was exclusionary to a diverse group of people nevertheless. Those who were enjoying the river didn’t see it as overcrowded. Overcrowding was defined by those who didn’t want them there. Instead of figuring out a way to be more inclusive, they created a parking prohibition for an otherwise empty parking lot to close the door to a river that runs through their town.

Indeed, our nation has done a lot to combat racism. The authors were correct to note that, “The overarching goal shouldn’t be to assign blame.” They write: “It should be to evaluate where we are now, take in the whole picture, and do our best to move forwards, as a united people, always improving, in a manner reflecting and respecting the human dignity and contributions of all.”

It may be hard to recognize from a community as insulated from the world as Charlemont, an idyllic community to be sure, but critical race theory helps us do all that. Refusing to open one’s mind to it would make one to blame for the perpetuation of systemic racism in America, especially if one was a policy maker. I’m sure the wonderful citizens of Charlemont would appreciate them for it.

Michael Seward lives in Shelburne.


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