Saturday, August 24, 2013

A plea to my neighbors to keep racism* out of local politics

This is a plea to my neighbors to keep racism* out of local politics.

Last night a friend of a friend told me that a local Mayoral candidate has a ‘White Agenda.’   Unfortunately my patience for racism* and divisive political rhetoric is too short to have gathered any information on what that might have meant.  The fact that one white person was saying this to another white person was ironic enough. The fact that he has an opinion on the agenda of all white people was simply infuriating.

One of the wonderful things about this particular mayoral race is the gender, race, income and educational diversity. I’m making a plea to my neighbors to not use the color of a candidate’s skin in their arguments. Be smarter than that. Dig deeper. Don’t let this election tear a city apart at its communal fabric because you want too badly to win.

I want a Mayor that puts the collective betterment of New Haven first. I’ve met with three of the four Mayoral candidates in person and talked with the fourth by phone. I’m clear that all four of them are passionate about New Haven. I’m also relatively confident that the three I’ve met with are potentially capable of running our city with the energy, ethics and enthusiasm for the job that will put our ever improving city in a better place when they leave office.

Our previous Mayoral administration, the Alderman and engaged residents have left the next Mayor with greater transparency, more operational efficiencies, better schools, a larger population, more economic development and a much improved Police Force.  On top of that I’d argue that our collective efforts over the past five years have left us with a more interesting home.

Despite all of the improvements the economics of successfully operating a small to mid size city range from challenging to questionably possible and it cannot be done successfully by the next Mayor’s administration alone.  All New Haveners are going to need to continue to do more than their part for our collective betterment.

If you don’t feel like you can do more than your part for our City then please don’t try to divide us by trolling the civic conversation with racial broad-stroking.  The individual who got me fired up enough to warrant this catharsis is only at fault for repeating the rhetoric that was recited to him without thinking what he was saying. The organizations that are spreading this divisive rhetoric need to cut it out and are equally to blame. It may be good for your candidate but its shit for our community. And for all the leaders who want to be Mayors, now would be a good time to start practicing leadership. Squash the racial assumptions about the other guy’s people and let’s have a civil election.


*Racism: the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race...

11 comments:

  1. Why are you friends with people like this in the first place?

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  2. Was a conversation with a friend of a friend. I don't know this person.

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  3. Were you able to make a change in the opinion or perception of this one person that was a little more realistic? And do you think that the opinion of this in-named friend of a friend was the result of some kind of bias on its own?

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    1. As mentioned in the post I was not cool headed enough to engage in the conversation. I find that changing people's minds once they are made up is pretty challenging. Writing this is a therapeutic alternative to beating my head against a wall that is thicker than its aggressor.

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  4. you ask your friend of friend to dig deeper. to think that any of the mayoral candidates doesn't have an agenda is not digging deeper, in my opinion. of course there's an agenda of all the candidates. to think that "whiteness" is neutral and everyone else is "other" is exactly the way white privilege works.
    in a town like new haven, we desperately need to be talking about racism and how it operates. i disagree strongly that we should try and leave race out of politics. that's impossible.

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    1. That's a fair point Ginger. Maybe stating that race should be left our of politics all together is too strong a statement. A more focused plea would be to ask campaigns to leave race out of the broad-stroking of your opponent's base. I don't see how that's helpful in any way.

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  5. In May of this year, I attended the fourth of four "Conversations on Race and Gentrification" jointly put on by Long Wharf Theater & New Haven Free Public Library in conjunction with the play "Clybourn Park" at the Fairhaven branch library. It was one of the best spaces I've been in since I've been in New Haven, and the discussion among diverse group of about 40 people was very honest, open, reflective, and at times quite tense. Many of the people in attendance--including myself--explicitly expressed the need for more of that kind of real discussion and reflection with other residents of the city.

    One of the things that is key to those kinds of conversations is understanding how racism is a system into which we are born, and one that often works quite subtly on our ideas, feelings, expectations, and daily practices. Dismantling structural racism requires us to go beyond the notion that racism is a belief system held by racists. It means that we have to be vigilant in reflecting on our own thoughts & feelings, as well as larger social trends. Refusing to acknowledge and think critically about how structural racism functions is one of the more insidious ways that we perpetuate systems of racism, even when we believe that we are not being racist. These systems also operate through the ideology that we are autonomous, rational individuals, especially when there are clear demographic trends demonstrating the opposite.

    The current mayoral race (haha...no pun intended) is taking shape along clearly racial lines, particularly in the case of support for Justin Elicker. The recent New Haven Independent article that posted contributor distribution maps ("4 Candidates, 4 New Havens," 9/4) shows clearly that Elicker is almost exclusively supported by overwhelmingly white neighborhoods in the city. Of course, this doesn't mean that Elicker or his supporters are "racists," but you don't have to be a sociologist think that this is a phenomenon deserving of discussion and critical reflection. We do ourselves a disservice by refusing to recognize and talk about what these racial (and class) dynamics mean for our neighborhoods, our city, and ourselves as individuals. The result has been an unsettling concentration of white anger accompanied by a discourse that is strangely resonant with Tea Party rhetoric (i.e. "Take Back New Haven").

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    1. Thanks for the comment Stephen. Conversation at Long Wharf sounds super interesting. I too am up for the real discussion and hope that it happens outside of the political arena where I've seen it used only to divide us to date. I also do not believe that a person is a racist just for making a comment that I would consider to be racist.

      If the comment that sparked my post was that the candidate's support was split amongst racial lines that would have pushed me to conversation. To me that's very different than saying that I have a white agenda.

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  6. It's so great to read a blog post where a whole bunch of white people are arguing about racism.

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    1. Glad you like it but I infer some snark? True? Apologies if not.

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