The Business of the City: Miscellaneous

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"Ugly" Speech and "Other" People

During public comment toward the end of the Monday, July 11, 2011 council meeting, a member of the public came before the microphone with a number of issues he wanted to mention to the council. Most of these issues were administrative and were (I would hope) duly noted by the Acting City Administrator and Corporation Counsel, respectively. However, in his remarks about the continuing foreclosures in Plainfield, this individual made a comment which I (and several others in the room) viewed as going down the ugly road of ethnic/racial divisiveness. He mentioned that as African Americans were losing their homes, "other people" have been buying them, or words to that effect. When the agenda meeting is aired on PCTV 34/96, you can watch and hear his comments verbatim. I am distressed about the severe financial difficulties faced by our residents, and we know that black people are being affected disproportionately all across the nation--all you have to do is watch the news.  

However, the "other" people to whom this resident was referring in his comments about those purchasing the foreclosed properties were the Latino population here in our great city of Plainfield. What I take offense at is that the word "other" was used in a pejorative sense--as if Latinos don't deserve to own homes and fully participate in the civic life of Plainfield. Yes, we have had a burgeoning Latino community here in Plainfield for the past two decades, and certainly the 2010 census results demonstrate that the city is more than 30% Latino. To me, this is a good thing. We don't live in a deed-restricted or covenant-type community--Plainfield is for everyone. To cast a people as the villain based on their ethnicity is disgraceful, and we must all reject that kind of thinking. Black people continue to be "othered" in many respects in American society--we have seen the results of that type of thinking.

I have heard this type of commentary before here in Plainfield (as well as elsewhere), and is angers me to no end. For members of an historically disenfranchised people (meaning African Americans) to indulge in the same type of xenophobic, racist thinking to vilify and stereotype and discriminate against other groups is even more shameful. The current climate of economic disfranchisement and fear helps to fuel this kind of racist rhetoric (witness the racist demagoguery of the so-called "Tea Party"). In a city like Plainfield, with more than its share of economic distress, I can only imagine how easily this kind of talk can pervade the thinking of usually reasonable people and make them point fingers at "other" groups based on their ethnic and/or racial identity, rather than at those who profit from their despair (banks, predatory lenders, etc.).   

The next speaker who came to the microphone after this commentary identified himself as an American of Cuban descent, whose parents came to this country forty years ago for a better life. A regular council meeting attendee himself, he began by noting that he usually found the first speaker's comments to be engaging and full of "comic relief." But, on this night, upon hearing these hurtful and divisive and inflammatory remarks, he was no longer laughing. His anger was palpable, and I share it. Of course, we live in a democracy where everyone is able to air his or her views freely (even the anonymous cowards who wrote, printed, and distributed the racist, sexist, homophobic "scarlet letter" in city hall with no problem), but I reject hatred in all its (sometimes disguised) forms. There really is no place for it, and we have to call it out.

Also on the agenda last night was a mayoral appointment to the Human Relations Commission (HRC)--quite fortuitous, as the Human Relations Commission would be a good start to having a healthy dialogue about the tensions in our city regarding race, ethnicity, and homophobia. I am hopeful that the HRC reflects the diversity of our city in all its aspects. I am asking the City Clerk to please send me a list of all those who have been appointed to the Human Relations Commission, the meeting schedule, and all meeting minutes for the past four years. I also serve as city council liaison to the Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs (PACHA). I have asked for the meeting schedule and minutes from this group as well. 

I think that dealing with ethnic and racial problems head on is the only way to make our city stronger, and these groups would be a good place to start. Let's call it out whenever and wherever we hear it. Here in Plainfield, we often talk about "diversity" as our strength--I want to make sure that folks know it is not lip service, but real.

All best,

Rebecca

6 comments:

  1. I was not at last night’s meeting, but if I was, I am sure I would have been just as annoyed at this speaker. One can usually spin something to their advantage, depending upon what type of picture they’d like to paint for whatever audience is before them, be it in a negative OR positive light.

    I am a white woman who is married to a white man, and quite often, if I really think hard on it, would consider myself a minority. But instead of harping on the negatives this might hold for me (of which I can’t think of one at this point in time), I try to embrace all who are different, and remember that this is a huge part of the reason that my husband and I moved to Plainfield. I have gay friends and straight friends in Plainfield. I have African-American friends and Asian friends, too. And I am not in foreclosure, but there have been many months when I have had to pay my mortgage late, and think “what if?” The thing is, if “what if” were to come to fruition, my diverse group of friends would be there for my husband and me, probably before my white, man/woman married friends would be.

    Good post, Rebecca – people need to let go of such negativity.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I respect the Tea Party for its goals of fiscal sanity. Your comments are racist!!

    ReplyDelete
  3. To 1:57 pm: Goals of what you call "fiscal sanity" are one thing; racism, xenophobia, and homophobia are another, and have nothing to do with fiscal sanity. However, those are the things that have come to characterize the so-called "Tea Party." If you think there is no racist demagoguery in the Tea Party rhetoric, you have not been paying attention. Please feel free to create, write, and edit your own "Tea Party Fiscal Sanity" blog.

    All best,

    Rebecca

    ReplyDelete
  4. In one respect I am sorry I left just before the Public Comment period. On the other hand I am glad I did so since I may have blown a gasket if I stayed. I do not kn ow who the person was-will have to watch the TV if I remember the time to find out. I do know that there has been one individual who has repeatedly subtilely played the race card when addressing Council.I did not see him present.

    As long as any one ethnic or religious group especially those who have been victims of hatred in the past express and act on unrestrictedly such feelings no community can survive.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Far more people of African heritage live in Central and South America than in the USA. Most 'Latinos' are of some admixture of Native American, European, and African ancestry. The second President of Mexico, like President Obama, was an African American, Vicente Guerrero:
    http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2009-02-19/article/32284?headline=Mexico-s-First-Black-President .

    ReplyDelete
  6. as long as people continually identify themselves by their ethnic or geographical makeup we will have a long way to go.
    I am an American. I have an ancestry that is a mix of German / French / Irish...but I am an American.
    Not Euro-American. Not White-American. American. I have friends, I don't African-American, Black, Asian, White or Bi-Racial friends, I have friends.
    I often remind the "Asians" I work with that their Russian, Indian, Pakistani and Georgian peoples are of the same continent partially making the one time attempt at political correctness moot by vilifying the term "Oriental" and slighting the other billion plus people in ASIA.
    Stop the hyphens....Where were you born? ( if you insist on labels )
    I don't give a damn what color/race/sexuality someone is who moves next door to me..I simply hope they are a good person who cares about the way the house, yard and neighborhood are. Color of your skin does not dictate the type of homeowner you are going to be. Trash comes in all colors, white, black, red, brown and yellow.

    ReplyDelete