Letter: RACE task force working to improve lives of minority residents
To the Editor:
As co-chairpersons of the Shelton Democratic Town Committee Racial Awareness Cultural Education (RACE) Task Force, we wanted to share the work that is being done on behalf of the citizens of Shelton.
There have been several meetings that have included members of the Shelton DTC as well as non-DTC concerned citizens that have expressed interest in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Our task force is comprised of a mix of multi-racial, multi-cultural, younger, older, male and female members. We have spent the first few weeks gathering facts and information about some of the issues that impact the black community that included a presentation from our neighbors from Stratford about the CARES program. We have been working with members of the Valley NAACP.
We discussed the impact of a video from the state of Connecticut on the Color of Justice and the role of implicit bias. We heard from a presenter from the Veterans Administration on Race-Based Traumatic Stress and will be reviewing data from the Shelton school system on the number of minority students that are enrolled in the schools as well as the low number of minority teachers that are currently employed.
We are now moving into our action phase of our task force where we will have members breaking down to focus on the impact that both education and law enforcement has on minorities in the city of Shelton. We will be looking to partner with the Board of Education and the chief of police to target specific areas for growth that we believe are necessary to improve the lives of our minority citizens.
One of the more complex issues we face is attempting to share the experience of minority citizens in what is a predominantly white community. When Black and brown people look at our community, we see little representation of Black and brown people in Shelton public offices, in the Shelton school system, or even in Shelton's cultural community, recreation and civic events.
We are challenged by the notion of “how does one understand they may have an issue with race if they are not aware of it?” This is referred to as implicit bias, sometimes called unconscious bias. To our citizens of color, issues such as disparate treatment by law enforcement or within the education system are more recognizable because it directly impacts them. Parents of minority children have different conversations with their sons and daughters about how to interact with the police or how to behave in school versus their white counterparts. But if you are a police officer or work in the school system, how do you know if you show bias toward a particular race or culture if you’re not even aware you possess these biases? How can you change something you may not be aware of? This doesn’t just hold true to our law enforcement and educational professionals. If you are white and live in Shelton, you may feel compassion for what is going on in the country regarding Black Lives Matter, but unless it directly impacts you, you may not express the kind of empathy you would if you had experienced the loss of a close friend or family member.
So, what are some examples of bias that you may show that you are not aware of? If you feel the need to point out that Black people are killed more by other Black people as a response to police shootings of unarmed Black men, this might be an example. If you differentiate people of color based on the way they look, act, talk but don’t do the same for white people, this may be implicit bias. If you feel the need to point out that you have Black friends when someone challenges your comments about race, this, too, may be implicit bias. Just to be clear, having biases that you may not be aware of does not make you a bad person. Our goal in the RACE task force is to try and help our fellow citizens to shed light on their feelings, emotions, values that can give them a better understanding of what minorities have historically endured that still exists in many aspects of their lives today.
We welcome all citizens to open their hearts and their minds to the opportunities that exist in Shelton for greater understanding and acceptance of all our citizens and we look forward to working with everyone to improve the lives of the minorities that live here.
Grace Clark Johnson
Michael J Federici
Shelton Democratic Town Committee Racial Awareness Cultural Education (RACE) Task Force