Letter: NCHS Alumni Group Has Confused Race Issue

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Last week, a coalition of eight New Canaan High School alumni presented a swath of “demands” to address deficits in social justice and inclusivity in our public schools. In a bizarre and embarrassing twist, their presentation, along with an open letter with more than 700 signatories, laments the fact that New Canaan’s lack of diversity leads these white students to be “impeded” in their future lives. Far fewer words seemed concerned with the rights and wishes of the too few black students who occupy the desks at New Canaan High School.

“Being taught by mostly white educators has shortchanged the education of students from New Canaan,” the article reads, “after they entered a multicultural and diverse world when they left home.” The open letter sings the same tune: we must “prepare the next generation of leaders in an increasingly diverse world.”

No one should have to point out to these alumni that Black Lives Matter is a movement about ending police brutality and racial profiling, not a retroactive crusade against sheltered white childhoods. Yet here we are.

Will Hennessy, Boston College grad and employee at TED, a media company, says that his childhood in New Canaan has made him a racist. “I have been called out at my workplace when the stakes are high,” he says. He believes NCHS broadly inspires “normalized behaviors… [which] have unintentionally been hurtful, racist, homophobic and often times oppressive.” Hmm.

At any other time in our country’s history, Mr. Hennessy would have been thought a lunatic for making such broad accusations of bigotry against his fellow alumni. Yet in the past two weeks, as our country’s institutions bend over backwards to accommodate the left’s cultural putsch, our town has met Mr. Hennessy’s words with vigorous nods and deafening silence. 

Alumni say they are “underprepared” for the “increasingly diverse world” beyond New Canaan. This is patently false; it is not an increasingly diverse world that has shocked their sensibilities—it’s an increasingly woke one. New Canaan provides ample multicultural education and fiercely condemns racism; what New Canaan failed to tell these alumni, and what they quickly “learned” in college, is that they, the white New Canaan students, are part of the “problem.”

Such a worldview is playing out to gleeful result around the country, as activists insist that white people writ large apologize for alleged thought-crimes of racism. NCHS alumni now want to manifest that same fallacy in our schools with “twice yearly district-wide, all school day events aimed at understanding and embracing racial justice, diversity and inclusion.” These expensive, embarrassing, and wasteful “struggle sessions” already play out in colleges across the country, including at my own, Middlebury College. I cringe to imagine the scene as NCHS teachers are forced to conduct discussions in which the only acceptable conclusion is when white teenagers, grappling for the even the slightest examples in which they have been racist, finally give in and accept their responsibility as “oppressors.” In a district that takes immense pride in its minority students, I cannot think of a more effective way to burden them with the responsibility to act as representatives of their race, a dynamic that does more to ignite racial tensions than quell them.

The pervasive philosophy among well-worn New Canaanites is a hybrid of that old French concept, noblesse oblige, and the golden rule: that the most fortunate have a duty to leverage their position to help their fellow man. That philosophy is visible in real results for the less fortunate, through programs like A Better Chance and the NCHS Scholarship Fund. There is always more to do. But today, that long-standing obligation is ceding ground to the pernicious sin of “white privilege,” from which the only logical redemption is apostasy. Go ahead, disown your upbringing, and declare that every inch of it, the American-flag-lined Main Street and the old clapboard homes, are all vehicles of institutional oppression. Your grandfather wasn’t a retail banker in the 1960s? No matter, merely by living in New Canaan you are complicit in the institutional crime of redlining. And by renouncing your “privilege,” you will leave yourself with no means to help anyone.

One could mistakenly think that Derek Chauvin, the police officer responsible for the horrible death of George Floyd, were himself an NCHS grad, and we New Canaanites the guilty incubators of his crimes. Our town’s absence of substantive connection to the issues of today is not lost on some alumni, who, in comments on the open letter, have suggested that we as a town “speak out against” (read: publicly shame) the devil alumna herself, conservative commentator and alleged “white supremacist” Ann Coulter. Because history has always proved scapegoating an effective means of change.

That white progressive “allies” have co-opted a black movement against police brutality and racial profiling should come as no surprise. The universities these individuals attended openly perpetuate the absurd concepts of intersectionality, in which “oppressed” voices carry greater weight than those of oppressors, and critical race theory, which asserts that race and racism pervade every aspect of our lives. This is just the latest example of Ivy-league white elites fanning the flames of black issues, placing them in ideological frameworks that endlessly reject “the system,” and packaging their conclusions in absurdities such as journalist Nicole Hannah Jones’ widely discredited 1619 Project, which asserts that every aspect of American history is irrevocably sinful due to the British slave trade of the 17th century. These are the “academic” forces behind the deeply ignorant sentiments to abolish police departments and topple statues of our country’s heroes.

Don’t let demands for a town-sponsored “progressive” indoctrination distract from the fact that NCPS is in dire need of diversity in its faculty. New Canaan must make a concerted effort to hire more teachers of color; we owe that to our precious few minority students, especially if a future New Canaan is to be known as a welcoming place for all. Furthermore, counselors and administrators should make sure minority voices are heard, asking them if and how their race impacts their role in the NCHS community. The administration should be continually vigilant against instances of blatant discrimination, especially in areas like course placement, grading, the appointment of sports captains, and casting in the theatre department. Furthermore, awkward moments of misunderstanding like that described by Fatou Niang—where teachers single out black students to act as representatives of their race—should be rooted out. These are real issues of discrimination that my black peers encountered while in high school. I urge Dr. Bryan Luizzi, the superintendent of schools, to exercise extreme prudence when deciding on the path forward for our district, and to reject the progressive fantasy that New Canaan is complicit in an insidious and ubiquitous racist scheme.

Despite my peers’ lapses in judgement, I am optimistic about the future of New Canaan and its relationship with inclusivity. The June 8 protest was an immense display of unity in our town, with cooperation among protesters, police, and elected officials. Never has our town agreed more wholeheartedly on a subject: that police brutality must end, and that we cannot rest until black Americans feel comfortable in our town and our country.

Griffin Hall, NCHS ’16, New Canaan, CT

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