An edited version of this letter will be going to the Newtown Bee.
The Newtown Democratic Town Committee is deeply disturbed by the hurtful letter from Legislative Council member Cathy Reiss. At best, she did not seriously think through the implications and errors of what she was writing, failing to comprehend the offensive and racist nature of such writing. She should apologize.
Author of How to Be an Antiracist, National Book Award-winning author Ibram X. Kendi says, “The heartbeat, historically, of racism has been denial…” Ms. Reiss’ words indicate her denial.
“Systemic (or structural) racism” is defined by NAACP President Derrick Johnson as “the systems and structures that have procedures or processes that disadvantage African Americans.”
Ms. Reiss claims there can be no systemic racism because “Americans voted for a black man to be president-twice (his name is Barack Obama) and Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire. In 1960, there were several wealthy African Americans in Alabama.” According to Reiss’ logic, there would be no systemic racism in the Jim Crow South. We still see evidence of systems and structures that have disadvantaged Blacks in today’s America. Consider:
- In 2016, at $171,000, the net worth of a typical white family was nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150). (McIntosh, et. al, Examining the Black-White Wealth Gap, Brookings Institute, 2/27/2020).
- The student loan gap between whites and African Americans has continued to grow: Black college graduates have nearly $25,000 more student loan debt: an average of $52,726 in student debt, compared to $28,006 for the typical White bachelor’s graduate. (White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans)
- There is also significant racial disparity seen in higher education. There are serious inequities even among students who do graduate from college. Using federal data on the type of credentials students earn and the majors they study, this analysis finds that, compared with white students, black and Hispanic graduates are far more likely to have attended for-profit colleges and less likely to have attended four-year public or nonprofit institutions. Black and Hispanic graduates also generally have attended institutions that have less money to spend on offering a quality education. And they are significantly underrepresented in important fields such as engineering and education, mathematics and statistics, and the physical sciences. (Libassi, CJ. The Neglected College Race Gap: Racial Disparities Among College Completers, Center for American Progress, 5/18/2018).
- In 2019, 9.8% of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured, while 14.8% of Blacks were uninsured. (Rudden, Jennifer, Percentage of Americans Without Health Insurance by Ethnicity 2010-219, Statista.com).
- The unemployment and underemployment rates between whites and African Americans remain significant even in prosperous times. From January 1972 to December 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reflected the Black unemployment rate to be twice or more than that of whites.
Painfully, Ms. Reiss excuses the scourge of American slavery with the same traitorous Confederate argument that it was “a world practice since at least 6800 BC.” She proceeds to claim the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement is “more a Marxist movement than a civil rights movement.” Despite loose Marxist roots amongst a few organizers, BLM is a worldwide civil rights movement with the obvious objectives of democratic and constitutional systemic changes for racial equality.
The rest of the quote from Ibram X. Kendi is “…the heartbeat of antiracism is confession, is admission, is acknowledgment, is the willingness to be vulnerable, is the willingness to identify the times in which we are being racist, is to be willing to diagnose ourselves and our policies and our countries. . .to be antiracist is to admit when we are being racist.”
We hope Ms. Reiss and like-minded Newtowners consider these words. Newtown deserves better.
Also please read the following letters from DTC members and friends.
Its Never Too Late by Connie Cooper
Confederate Statues by Richard Eigen
Find Hope and Courage in Activism by Jordana Bloom
A Long Way to Go by Betsy Litt
What Matters by Lea Embree
Lets Move Forward by Jessica Plouffe
Elected Officials Must Set the Bar High by Cara Reilly