Yes, it was another contentious week in the Boardroom. Carl Paladino continues to instigate intimidating and bullying attacks on anyone who disagrees with him. Now, he’s threatening to sue Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg, Ms. Sharon Belton Cottman, Rashondra Martin, Esq. (the Board’s attorney) and me for slander. This latest threat came in a February 25th email alleging that we had called him a “racist and sexist” and putting us on notice of his intent to pursue legal action against us. This is the latest in an escalating series of assaults on the African American women on the Board and on the staff. This is clearly part of a coordinated plan to create distractions designed to take the focus away from the serious issues that we need to address in this District. Not one to leave well enough alone, Mr. Paladino subsequently published a copy of an email that he received from “Herman”, an individual he identifies as a friend. In fact, “Herman” is an African American friend, who decided to weigh in on the subject of the nature of Black people.
And I quote from “Herman’s” email: “I applaud you for your efforts to help fix the Buffalo School system, but you have a hinderence (sic). Blacks think different, we are comfortable playing the part of being the VICTIM, and always blaming others for things we should be doing for our self…..We always make accusations of racism, when in fact Blacks are more racist than anyone……We (Blacks) don’t understand capitalism, economics or investments. We are selfish, and have intention of taking responibility (sic) for our self…. All we want is to have things given to us…..when it comes to the miniority (sic) school board members (ignorance). You are an intellegent (sic) man, but you will never come across to those idiots. This is why, we are at the bottom of the food chain.” Mr. Paladino’s response: “Wow, Herman that was inspiring.” This was followed by his own prediction that “The Board majority intends to lead them (a reference to the minority Board members) kicking and screaming to the promised land.”
Normally, I wouldn't dignify this latest instance of Tomfoolery with a response. As an educator and community historian, however, I’m compelled to address a number of issues raised by “Herman’s” email. It’s significant that “Herman’s” missive arrives as we are concluding the observance of African American history month. It offers a striking, contemporary, example of the age-old ploy of pitting one African American against another. Before I go further, I should acknowledge that African Americans are certainly not a monolithic group who always agree. And “Herman” does have the right to voice his opinion. But, we also know that the manipulation of one (or more) African Americans, whether his name is Herman, Tom or Harry, to denigrate, berate and undermine the integrity of other African Americans has historical roots in an era that was damaging to all; Blacks and Whites. It’s a strategy that allows expressions that might otherwise be considered inflammatory, if voiced by a white person, to be attributed to intra-group diversity and yet validate outer group assertions.
“Herman’s” anonymity compounds the problem. It makes him and his message suspect. Most of us would ignore a letter from an anonymous source or at least question its intent and veracity. After all, it’s difficult to believe someone who does not have the courage or the integrity to stand by his words by signing his name to such an impactful communication. In fact, people have told me that they question whether “Herman” really exists or is just the figment of someone’s imagination. Even the structure of the email itself, calls for a closer look at “Herman” and conjures up a picture of him that is not flattering. Shared as it was for public discourse, inclusive of its poor grammar and bad spelling, the email was sure to raise questions on those points alone. “Herman’s” statements condemn not just an entire group of people, but HIS people. No doubt, some will judge them as reprehensible, disloyal and fallacious although others may agree. But, until Herman decides to come out of the shadows of anonymity, it’s all debatable. One might also question the reputed friendship between the two men.
After all, who would expose a friend to such scrutiny?