In the Suburbs: Applauding Fairfield students, families for standing against racism

Bravo! This is a shout out to Fairfield students and residents who spoke out and stepped up after two racial slurs rocked our two high schools earlier this month. And on Monday of this week, students “streamed out of Fairfield Ludlow High School, protesting recent racial incidents and calling for changes,” according to the Fairfield Citizen. “A similar action took place across town at Fairfield Warde” where students also staged a walkout.

Organizers in the story noted that “between 500 and 600 students participated in Ludlowe’s event, which lasted a little under three hours and included scheduled speeches and an opportunity for students to share their own experiences.”

I was pleased to see how many members of our quiet bedroom community arrived at the Ludlowe walkout to support students and make it clear that Fairfield will not put up with racism.

Youth for Equity organized the Ludlowe event and Fairfield Warde Voices for Equity organized the Warde one.

While it has been refreshing to see how diverse our community has become in the 39 years since we originally moved to Fairfield, it is very sad that social media vehicles, like Snapchat, were the alleged forum for racial slurs against a student in town. With the country as divided as it is, I thought Fairfield students might be above exercising racism against peers. Apparently, I was wrong.

I was also pleased to see that more than 24,000 people, locally and I’m sure from other places around the state and possibly the country, spoke out online against the slurs toward these young Black students. Thankfully, social media can work both ways.

Both of our daughters are graduates of Fairfield Warde, but when they attended, Ludlowe High School had been closed due to a lack of students. The name had been changed to Fairfield High School but Warde was actually where the high school was. Based on this racial incident, I asked our daughters if they recalled any racist incidents toward students of color. Both said they didn’t recall any from their time there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

In those days, our lives were naive and simple. There was no internet or social media. Fairfield’s Black population was just starting to expand.

Among other parents and friends from Fairfield, with whom we got together regularly as the girls were getting older, we rarely discussed the cultural diversity of students or families and always complimented the quality education in Fairfield schools. We talked about racism in other places, but not Fairfield.

Between 2008 and 2013, when I substituted in Fairfield high schools and middle schools and the Black and Latino population had grown in town, I never encountered incidents where racism was a factor among students. Yes, more students were using emails and eventually texts, but I never heard of anything derogatory appearing online.

My limited understanding from this early May online incident is that both high schools are handling the discipline of the high schoolers privately and with respect to the targeted family. And I was very impressed by the way the walkouts at the high schools were handled by students and adults. But it seems the matter is not totally settled.

This Wednesday’s edition of the Fairfield Patch indicated that there is still some disagreement among The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) about this issue.

According to Fairfield Patch, in referring to the charge against the student allegedly posting the racial slurs, “The ACLU of Connecticut is arguing the charge restricts freedom of speech and is unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press. Having racist ideas or sharing racist ideas is something that we actually protect, Emerson Sykes, a senior staff attorney with the national chapter of the ACLU, told the AP.”

Sykes added, “Even if that viewpoint is offensive, even if it’s deplorable, we don't want the government making the call about what’s OK to say and think and what is not. But we have limitations on that right.”

The Patch reporter added that the NAACP argues the charges against the teen should be stronger.

The 16-year-old Fairfield Warde High School student was arrested and charged with ridicule on account of creed, religion, color, denomination, nationality or race, as well as second-degree breach of peace. He is accused of posting a photo of a classmate that was taken without that student’s knowledge along with a racial slur, police said.

I have no idea where this new conflict between the ACLU and the NAACP may be going, but I believe the actions of Fairfield students this past Monday surely commanded the respect of fellow students and residents here in the community. I applaud the effort to take a stand against the blight of racism locally and in our society.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.