Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mascia Shatters the Silence!

Last week Joe Mascia shattered the wall of silence that separates this community when it comes to responding to racist and discriminatory actions and speech.  The Common Council candidate and BMHA Commissioner was caught, on tape, calling African American political leaders and others the “N” word.  Reminiscent of the old adage, “give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile”, he also criticized the Mayor, Council President Darius Pridgen and others charging “Once they’re in power, forget about it, forget it.  They want it all.”  Widely reported by all the news outlets, the response to Mascia’s vile language and tone has been swift.  The aggrieved parties have called for his withdrawal from the Council race and his resignation as a BMHA Commissioner. They’ve been joined by Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner who called Mascia’s behavior, “…despicable.  There’s no excuse.”  Fillmore Council member David A. Franczyk weighed in on his opponent’s remarks by describing Mascia as “unfit for public office.”  Conservative Party Chairman Ralph C. Lorigo stated he was shocked and had “no tolerance for this kind of issue.” FACEBOOK and other social media sites have blown up with comments condemning Mascia.  Analyses of his remarks in their historical and contemporary contexts, including mine, are being written on numerous platforms.  A few have spoken in support of the embattled candidate yet the overwhelming consensus is that he must go!  What does this say about race relations in the third most segregated and poorest city in the country?

Last week Joe Mascia shattered the silence and sparked community outrage over the racist language and behavior of a public official.  Or did he?  Last week I wrote an article entitled “Breaking the Silence”.  I cited the on-going racist talk and behavior of a Buffalo school board member that has been tolerated, by many of the same public officials who were slandered by Mascia’s comments.  Other political, business, community, religious and civic leaders have also been stoically closed-mouthed.  Why is it that Mascia’s comments were so quickly condemned while comments by this other public official have received scant to no attention by those who spoke out so passionately and with such indignation?  I understand that the “N” word is toxic and evokes the legacy of legally sanctioned, unjust and inhumane treatment of Black people.  Yet, in this enlightened age when most people realize the power of this one word to convey racist ideology in one fell swoop, “political correctness” generally prevents its utterance.  That doesn’t mean that racism, along with sexism and classism has ceased to exist.  The solution has been to develop coded language, understood by certain groups, to convey racist messages.

In his book, “Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class”, Ian Haney Lopez describes this coded language, as “dog whistle” messaging. The dog whistle analogy is based on the high pitch of a whistle that only a dog can hear.  The use of certain terms, e.g. codes, can convey racist, sexist or classist beliefs understood by its intended audience.  Lopez says that the coding is accomplished in a three way process:  

Remarks are made that “1) Punch racism into the conversation through references to culture, behavior, and class; 2) parry claims of race-baiting by insisting that absent a direct reference to biology or the use of a racial epithet, there can be no racism; 3) kick up the racial attack by calling any critics the real racists for mentioning race and thereby “playing the race card.”

Lopez says that the “dog whistle: messaging produces phrases that appear to have very little to do with race but under the surface convey racist imagery.

Last week I offered a text book example of how “dog whistle” politics works in the Buffalo School Board.  “Paladino claims that he is not a racist.  As proof he is making the proverbial counterclaim that it is, in fact, the minority board members who are “playing the race card.”  In a July 13th letter to new State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Paladino supports this allegation by also calling the minority members “racists”.  “It’s truly a shame that such racist, incompetent and irresponsible people are elected to such critical positions.”  Paladino’s back up strategy is to threaten to sue anyone who uses the word racist and Paladino in the same sentence.   Thanks to his privilege, money and access to legal representation (he has his own law firm), he ignores the contradiction in calling the minority members racists but will sue them if they exercise their free speech rights.”

I agree with all that has been said regarding Mr. Mascia and his comments.  They are intolerable.  He should be called out as well as anyone else who uses this type of language.  But, the “N” word is not the end-all be-all of racist thought, beliefs and behavior.  Should we be any more tolerant of the use of words such as “incompetent”, “unintelligent”, “feeding at the public trough”, “the black sisterhood”, “seeking self-empowerment” “clueless” derisively applied to women of color?  While most are careful to control language that is transparently racist, coded language such as that used to convey racist ideology is neither acceptable nor tolerable.  It accompanies beliefs that people of color are not as good as; not as human as; not as worthy of respect as; not as deserving of equity as and…….. it goes on and on.  To allow this language to go unchecked is to support thought and action that differs little from that used by Mr. Mascia.  Funny thing is that Mr. Mascia’s racist language was taped without his knowledge while the Board of Education “dog whistle” language is liberally shared in speeches, media sound bites and written communication.  On second thought, it’s no laughing matter.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Breaking the Silence!

Carl Paladino is at it again or I should say still as he’s never stopped attacks against women of color.  Now, he is going after the Buffalo Parent Teachers Organization (BPTO) a group with diverse members, who have called him out for behavior they describe as “racist and adverse”.  Since he’s been on the Board of Education, Mr. Paladino has routinely referred to African American women, including former Superintendent Pamela Brown and other Black female administrators and the five minority female members of the Board with pejorative, demeaning, racialized terms.  Using the expression in a perverse manner, he has called us the “sisterhood” and said we constitute a “cabal”.  He commonly parrots the phrases:  “incompetent, parasites, feeding at the public trough, unable to intelligently articulate, wanting to maintain the status quo, having a friends and family club, seeking self-empowerment and not caring about African American children.” 

There’s more but I think readers can make the connection to the BPTO’s assessment of Paladino’s behavior.  Other Black women leaders have also been subjected to Paladino’s negative characterizations.   Assemblywoman Peoples-Stokes and Regent; Dr. Catherine Collins experienced a verbal assault comprised of many of the above epithets after Dr. Collins’ appointment to replace former Regent Robert Bennett.  In fact, until recently African American women have been the principal recipients of Paladino’s attacks.  This behavior has continued for two years or more and in the last year has escalated, such that Mr. Paladino now cites the minority Board members and their allies as responsible for the “dysfunction”, “low morale”, and “corruption” in the schools.  Never one to provide valid statistics, these charges are often “supported” by distorted and manufactured data.  Yet most of these unprofessional, intimidating and unwarranted attacks have been met by a wall of silence from community leaders, of all ethnicities.

I have written to the Board President, Mr. Sampson, on three separate occasions regarding Mr. Paladino’s egregious behavior.  These memos asked that the Board address:  Mr. Paladino’s threatening email to Dr. Gary Orfield, the OCR consultant; his outburst at a Board meeting when he called the Board’s Black female attorney “ignorant” and his demand for Mr. Ogilvie’s resignation.  None of these requests have been acknowledged.

Paladino claims that he is not a racist.  As proof he is making the proverbial counterclaim that it is, in fact, the minority board members who are “playing the race card.”  In a July 13th letter to new State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Paladino supports this allegation by also calling the minority members “racists”.  “It’s truly a shame that such racist, incompetent and irresponsible people are elected to such critical positions.”  Paladino’s back up strategy is to threaten to sue anyone who uses the word racist and Paladino in the same sentence.   Thanks to his privilege, money and access to legal representation (he has his own law firm), he ignores the contradiction in calling the minority members racists but will sue them if they exercise their free speech rights.

The BPTO has dared to confront Paladino on his claim that he is not a racist.  Their letter is not just a challenge to Paladino, however.  They say, “…it’s time for those who have aligned or associated with Mr. Paladino and those who have remained silent while in the position to actively denounce and reject his actions, be held accountable.  BOE members, public and elected officials, community leaders, and media have a duty and responsibility to act.  Systemic racism persists, not just because of individuals like Mr. Paladino, but because of those, while not racist themselves, tolerate systemic and individual racism with their silence and inaction, particularly those in a position of leadership and authority.” 
On July 14th, the BPTO was joined by members of 17 other organizations, including Richard Lipsitz, AFL-CIO WNY Area President and Franchelle Hart, the Executive Director of Open Buffalo, to reinforce their call to Break the Silence.  In public discourse, it may be the roar of the crowd that gets more attention but it’s the deafening silence that makes a greater impact.  That silence condones the behavior, supports the offender and communicates tacit approval.  Our children deserve better role models.  Thank you, BPTO for having the courage to take this stand.  Thank you for demonstrating that intolerant behavior should not be tolerated.  Thank you for tackling the subject of race that few want to discuss but which all of us need to address as a community if Buffalo is truly going to fulfill its Renaissance destiny.

On February 23, 2015, I wrote a column which concluded:

When do the so-called pillars of the community, who claim to be concerned about the “state” of the Buffalo Schools, stop looking the other way as one man causes such havoc?  When is enough, enough?!  When do we stop allowing Black women to be disrespected and vilified?  When is enough, enough?!  When do we stop being silent; as our students are characterized as “poor, suffering children trapped in failing schools”; as systematic actions by Board members to “dismantle” our school district are touted as “bold and innovative”; as orchestrated and sustained assaults designed to create a narrative of the District as the “poster child” for failing schools in the State, are routinely published in the media, even though there are other cities with worse records.  When is enough, enough?!  When is enough, enough?!

Thank you BPTO for answering my question. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Board Minority Reject Paladino’s Resolution to Appoint Superintendent

Once again Carl Paladino is trying to impose the appointment of a principal as the Superintendent of the Buffalo School System.  In a resolution dated June 29th but submitted to the Board on July 2nd, Paladino calls for the appointment of Kevin Eberle, effective July 15th for a “minimum” of four years.  I won’t comment on Mr. Eberle at this point, but the resolution was made public by Paladino and names him in the document, so I am not disclosing confidential information.  The concern of the Minority Bloc is that this Resolution is another attempt to circumvent a process that:

·         Includes all Board members in the decision making process
·         Results in the appointment of a qualified applicant following a comprehensive and diligent search
·         Is open and transparent, engaging community stakeholders and offering them an opportunity for input before the selection is made
·         Provides a rationale for the appointment of a Superintendent that fully discloses and enumerates all the qualifications, competencies, relevant experiences and record of successful accomplishments of the proposed appointee
·         Provides an example of the vision/plan that the appointee brings to this very complex job specifically with respect to several recent State mandates

Before getting to the crux of his resolution Paladino speaks to what he characterizes as the “dysfunction, chaos, lack of morale, corruption and incompetence of the BPS”.  He also launches into invectives and accusations that “certain members of the Board” frustrated the search process and therefore other Board members were no longer obligated to continue the search process.  The final paragraphs of the resolution state:

Whereas, the present shortlist of seven candidates includes people not familiar with New York State, Buffalo or the BPS, its qualities, problems nor staff as well as local candidates not prepared to implement the vision statement of the BOE majority and change required to correct the dysfunction; and

Whereas, only one candidate has the background and qualities necessary to immediately implement the necessary change required to correct the dysfunction in an expeditious, intelligent, informed and diligent manner to give the children of the BPS hope and an immediate opportunity for a good education

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the BOE appoints Kevin Eberle as Permanent Superintendent of the BPS effective as of July 15 2015, for a minimum four year term, subject to other material terms to be negotiated by the Finance Chair and General Counsel of the BOE.

It should also be noted that Mr. Eberle and two other internal candidates were interviewed by Board members on June 30th in a meeting that Mr. Paladino did not attend.  So it is obvious that he made a decision that was not informed by an interview process that included several other candidates.  In fact, a clause in the Resolution dismissed all other candidates, who Paladino disqualified because none were “prepared to implement the vision statement of the BOE majority”.  On this point, it appears obvious that Mr. Eberle would have had to pledge his intention to implement the vision under the watchful eye of Mr. Paladino and other majority Board members.

The Minority members of the Board of Education reject the Paladino resolution.  We question its legitimacy and reject the assumed authority of one Board member to make a unilateral decision to appoint a Superintendent, even if the resolution has the support of 5 votes. In fact the Board’s Special Counsel, Karl Kristoff of the Hodgson Russ law firm responded to an inquiry from the minority members that Mr. Paladino’s resolution was not in order.

Note:  Mr. Paladino did not attend the July 8th Board of Education meeting.  After an attempt to table his resolution by Mr. Quinn was defeated, Ms. Belton-Cottman moved and Dr. Nevergold seconded that this resolution be removed from the agenda all together.  This motion passed with yes votes from Ms. Kapsiak, Dr. Harris-Tigg, Ms. Pierce, Mr. Quinn, Dr. Nevergold and Ms. Belton-Cottman.  Mr. McCarthy was the only no vote.  Mr. Sampson left the meeting early.  Of course it remains to be seen if Mr. Paladino attempts to resubmit the resolution.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Paladino Plant Lectures Board Minority Members Citing Heinous Murderer: Dylan Storm Roof

First there was Herman, that anonymous (reportedly he later revealed his identity) Negro, who came to Carl Paladino’s defense a couple months ago.  In his own inimical style Herman wrote a letter lauding Carl’s “give ‘em hell” style and in his own words, applauding Paladino for working to “fix” the Buffalo schools.  While he was at it, he took the opportunity to “school” Paladino and everyone else about the innate nature of Black people. “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.” 

So, it was only a matter of time before another Paladino “friend” decided that she needed to educate the Black women of the Board about Black children and racism.  On June 25th firmly ensconced on a platform built on privilege, smug superiority, insensitivity and gross ignorance, a beaming Paladino cheering her on, Tea Party member Julianne Thompson addressed the Board on the subject:  “A Perspective on Race”.  She began with an admonishment, supposedly to all Board members observing that “some of the conflict here lies, not in differences of skin color, but the rather radically opposing temperaments.”  The latter were attributed to “…very expressive women” who talked too much “and stodgy… just the facts kind of men.”  She further suggested that we remember that we were not “at a church bazaar or a ladies game of poker” and should learn and use Roberts Rules of Order.  But after this lofty beginning Ms. Thompson descended into the real purpose for her presentation.

First, she disclosed how disturbed she was by the “demand for a black superintendent”, even though no one has talked about recruiting a Black superintendent except Paladino.   She proceeded to link that “demand” to what she alleged was the faulty reasoning of the Minority members and others that “No one can understand the needs of our children like a black person can.”  “Are Black children different than white children?” she asked.   Ignoring a resounding YES from members of the audience, Ms. Thompson continued to espouse her “perspective on race”.  She launched into her rejection of such a ridiculous claim.  “Are they less capable?  Not as intelligent?  Does poverty affect their ability to learn?”  Without missing a beat, she assured us that from “her experience, with proper structure and support, it doesn’t”.  Furthermore, based on “her experience”, she was confident that (black) children “do not have special needs based on the color of their skin….”

With this sweeping pronouncement, Ms. Thompson suggested that we should ignore decades of research linking poverty to academic achievement because in her experience there is no link.  Forget, for example, that children living in poverty are more likely to have poor attendance; to drop out of school; to have health issues that impact learning; or to experience reading delays by third grade that have a serious, cumulative impact on reading fluency in subsequent grades.  Oh, right that’s not in Ms. Thompson’s experience!   The study that identified a 30 million word gap between preschoolers from lower socio-economic backgrounds and their more affluent counterparts is probably not in Ms. Thompson’s sphere of experience either.  Is she aware that over three-quarters of Buffalo Public School’s population are identified as living in poverty?  That institutional racism impacts every aspect of life, e.g. employment, housing and yes education, of a Black, Latino, Asian, Native American or other person of color is a fact experienced by the young and old alike?  Blacks and Latinos are about 31 percent of the US population, but 60 percent of the prison population. The “school to prison pipeline”, the connection between failed educational attainment and the disproportionately high incarceration of Black men is also well documented.  Yet, I’m certain that Ms. Thompson only sees this as the criminal justice system putting away lawbreakers and misfits.  

Are black children different than white children?  The banality of this question and Ms. Thompson’s Tea Party “Perspective on Race” culminated in what she termed was “a rather insightful comment” by Dylann Storm Roof.  Roof, the self-confessed white supremacist and murderer of nine African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina church on June 17th, is quoted by Ms. Thompson as having said that “Black people are racially aware almost from birth, but White people on average don’t think about race in their lives.”  Ms. Thompson interpreted that statement as a rationale for Roof’s actions.  She said, “He apparently tragically felt that needed to change, presumably in response to the violent race riots of late and the astonishing calls for violence against all Whites.”  Really? That Black people’s racial awareness “needed to change”?  “Astonishing calls for violence against all Whites?”  One might ask, how Roof’s insight helped color Ms. Thompson’s perspective on race?

Are black children different than white children?  Why is it that a white woman thinks she can appropriate the right to instruct Black women, all mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and teachers of Black children, who were once Black children themselves, on the answer to this question?  Why does she think she knows more about the care and support of Black children than we do?  Why is it she thinks that the  comment of a murdering white supremacist is an “insightful” pearl of wisdom about Black people that is worthy of recognition?  Why has her speech been published on the TeaNew York Party website, lauded by Paladino and distributed to thousands on his mailing list?   For me the answer can be found in the reflection of all the privileged, arrogant and ignorant people who share her views.