Out of the Woods: Lauds TEAM Westport goals of tolerance
Updated 5:40 am, Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Westporters have made progress on many fronts in terms of greatly expanding the racial, ethnic and religious diversity of our population from the early colonial days in 1835 when we were founded as virtually an all-white New England town with Anglo-Saxon roots.
However, despite the welcoming nature of our townspeople today, we still have among us some who would prefer to turn back the clock and keep out those who do not look like us, speak like us, dress like us, even attend the same religious institutions as us.
In short, while bigotry and prejudice are against the laws of our land, I believe there is no shortage of resentment against blacks, for example, who represent only a paltry 3 percent of our population in Westport. In my travels around town since 1968, I have heard first-hand references to bias against blacks by upstanding, highly reputable white members of our establishment who seem to harbor a deep or perhaps subconscious resentment (or fear) based on their upbringing and life’s experience with blacks. I am not saying all white people are racists — just that they could easily have racist views without even realizing it.
This is why there was a recent meeting of about 100 townspeople sponsored by TEAM Westport and other community groups at the Westport Library in the aftermath of anti-black leaflets distributed in some Westport residential areas stating, “White Lives Matter.” The discussion was an important milestone in the ongoing battle against the spread of actionable prejudice in our community. To his credit, Harold Bailey Jr., a former IBM executive, ably heads TEAM Westport, which serves as the conscience of our town on matters legal and moral.
The slogan, “Black Lives Matter,” was first introduced as a nationwide outcry from black Americans after beatings and shootings by police officers in various parts of the country. It was the chant heard at recent demonstrations in cities and towns from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore, in response to a series of incidents of police brutality that attracted wide press attention as well as commentaries from state and federal officials across the nation.
My colleague and fellow Westport News columnist Dan Woog is an active member of the team and had this to say in his recent column: “Westport is not immune to the [black-white] struggle. We are far less racially diverse than many places — and even less so economically, but we pride ourselves on not being like many other affluent almost all-white suburban towns.”
“A few people may have moved here to get away from some type of population they did not care for wherever they lived. While some suburban towns turned inward during the 1960s civil-rights movement, Westport looked outside.
“One area of diversity in which Westport has made little progress is economic. Compared to 50 years ago, this is no longer a place where many “middle-class” people can afford to live.
Teachers, firefighters, police officers — they’re gone. It costs a ton to buy or even rent in Westport, whatever your color,” Woog added.
My own view is this: Of all the local organizations I have written about in this newspaper during my years as a columnist since 1973, I can say without reservation that TEAM Westport is the most important long-term, community-wide effort to move people’s minds in the right direction than any other when it comes to race relations, diversity and tolerance. May it lead us eventually to the goal of total integration in the future.
Woody Klein is a Westport writer. His “Out of the Woods” column appears every other Friday in the Westport News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.