Letter: Claremont Memories, and Race

Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Claremont Memories, and Race

Upon hearing of the recent incident in which a young biracial boy suffered severe rope burns around his neck while “playing” with local teens in Claremont, we feel compelled to share our own experience of Claremont, where we lived from 1975-1997. Instead of debating this one incident, we hope to inspire a larger discussion of racism and bullying in Claremont and the U.S. at large.

Our family of eight — aged 30-82 — consists of a father who was a doctor in Claremont and a mother who was actively involved in St. Mary’s School, which all six siblings attended (the eldest four graduated from Stevens High School). We are also people of color: South Asian/Indians of Goan ancestry who were born in Zanzibar (parents), Kenya (oldest four siblings) and Claremont (youngest two).

Our experience in Claremont was largely positive, yet none of us were shocked or surprised by the potentially racist nature of the recent incident. As one of the only nonwhite families in town, we all experienced racism in one form or another. We didn’t know how to talk about it then, but we were in an environment that didn’t deal well with difference. Here are some of the things we experienced in Claremont:

Being asked “Where are you from?” constantly, while white immigrants or newcomers were not.

Being asked if we used to live in a mud hut and wear clothes made out of grass.

Being teased as a “piece of poop” for being brown or being excluded from childhood games.

Being nicknamed “Blackie,” “Pocahontas” and “spear-chucker” by our friends.

Having unidentified teenagers shout the N-word while driving by our home.

Being harassed or chased on the street by boys shouting the N-word and throwing things.

Being told by some white patients that they “don’t want a brown doctor.”

Our experience documents that racism is incontrovertibly part of the fabric of Claremont, as it is everywhere. By “racism,” we don’t just refer to prejudiced individuals, but entire systems of racial profiling and discrimination that advantage some and disadvantage others. To the police and the white majority: We hope you will be more sensitive to this reality. To other people of color: We understand and we support you.

We may disagree on the extent to which racism fueled this incident as well as what our family experienced, as bullying on other grounds (class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.) was and is just as prevalent. The larger point is that a culture of scapegoating anyone marked as “other” persists due to ignorance. More dialogue and education is needed to foster compassionate and healthy relationships.

We are with the good people of Claremont in not wanting our hometown to be labeled a place of intolerance. Nevertheless, any genuine attempt to live in mutual harmony and respect begins with admitting that racism and bullying do indeed exist in our communities. It’s up to each of us to stand up and say: That is not OK.

Bosco, Hazel, Karen, Timothy, Raymond, Joseph and Michael Cardozo

Amherst, Mass.