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Seeing More than Black/White

Terry H. Schwadron

Sept. 11, 2018

My wife and I recently changed our voting address to a farmhouse we’ve owned for 15 years in Greene County, N.Y., from New York City because we saw television ads urging the reelection of our local congressional Republican, John Faso.

It was aimed at a description of his Democratic opponent, Antonio Delgado, an attorney committed to representing issues of fairness, a graduate of Colgate and Harvard Law School, a Rhodes scholar, and a guy who tried his hand a rapping as a younger man, who is black. Guess what the ad discussed — right, the language and “values” of rap were described as inappropriate for this mostly white district.

It is racism wrapped (if not rapped) in campaign heat. And that motivated us to use our

vote to count more in a competitive congressional district than in Harlem, where Democratic candidates dominate.

On the day of commemoration for the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on our country and the start of the Jewish new year, the week’s happenings are rolling around in my head as news events colliding with long-held values.

It is obvious that we cannot turn around without bumping into more and more reported incidents of racial and ethnic conflict, from the serious issue of actual police shootings of unarmed black men to the relatively crazy complaints about whether kneeling before, during or out-of-sight of an NFL game playing of the national anthem represents a slight aimed at veterans rather than a sign of awareness that race matters in this country.

We find in our own Harlem neighborhood the continuing debate over gentrification that continually scratches at balancing change and tradition that seems gentle by comparison with what we see across the country.

— In Florida this week, now-former Rep. Ron DeSantis,the white, Republican candidate for governor against the black, liberal Democrat Andrew Gillum, mayor of Tallahassee, not only got into hot water for remarks about Gillum widely seen as racially insensitive, now is in the news for multiple speaking engagements for a conference that sees the country’s racial problem as a race war against whites.

— In Dallas, there are all kinds of investigations following the actions of a police officer who entered the wrong apartment and shot deada black man in his own home. The police officer has been charged in the death.

— In Illinois, former President Barack Obama was re-playing the stunned reactions to the Charlottesville, Va. violence last week, when President Trump insisted that there were good people on both sides of an event that was instigated by white supremacists. Trump shrugged metaphorically, as a new book by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward recounted that Trump had exploded against aides who criticized him for only haltingly calling out supremacists and neo-Nazi followers.

Washington Post columnist Greg Sargentadded, “At the pernicious core of these formulations is the tacit suggestion that discrimination against whites and discrimination against African Americans are not just moral equivalences but in a sense are also social and historical equivalences. The message is that white people should — and legitimately do in fact — harbor grievances about discrimination against them that belong on the same plane of seriousness as the grievances of African Americans do. The veiled but intended goal is to downgrade the latter — and, by extension, the unique monstrosity of the historical crime and continuing systemic anti-black racism that give rise to those grievances.”

— On the southern border, we still have 500 childrenwhom the government has been unwilling or unable to reunite with migrant parents, while across the nation, we continue to hear daily stories of families who have been here for decades wrecked by an excessively amped-up immigration enforcement that ignores the effects on family or on our national values.

— On Fox TV, Tucker Carlson attacked the whole notion of diversity, asking rhetorically what institution has been made stronger for housing people of different background. As Erik Wemple noted in his media column, the answer is so self-evident that Twitter immediately filled with scores of derogatory comments.

— In New York this week, at the U.S. Open, Serena Williams’ catastrophic encounter with tennis judge Carlos Ramos who penalized her three times in succession was being seen in some quarters as a select attack on a black woman.

Tennis great Billie Jean King wrote in a Washington Post op-ed, “But, for her, and for many other women who have experienced an abuse of power at their workplaces, there was more at stake. Did Ramos treat Williams differently than male players have been treated? I think he did. Women are treated differently in most arenas of life. This is especially true for women of color. And what played out on the court yesterday happens far too often. It happens in sports, in the office and in public service. Ultimately, a woman was penalized for standing up for herself. A woman faced down sexism, and the match went on.”

Perhaps in a lesson to soon-to-be Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it’s clear that the tennis judge had some discretion in not helping to calm a rising scene of dissension.

— In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had to distance himself from an embarrassing flyer that described challenger Cynthia Nixon as silent on the rise of anti-Semitism for supporting a boycott movement against Israel and opposing support for private schools attended by Orthodox Jews. She never has said either.

Whether the victim is black or Jewish, women or gays, Muslim or Mexican immigrant, what runs through all of these reports are issues of difference and division that our society increasingly is seeking out to exploit for scapegoats. Whether the issue is immigration or education, jobs and unemployment reports or college enrollments, we cannot seem to shake the underlying concerns about defining race and ethnicity as a weapon of division.

It is our job to call it out when it happens and not just look away.


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Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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