District 200 school board member Matt Baron wrote a piece in these pages one week ago wherein he claimed that an Oak Park community member had engaged in “a form of terrorism” [When you see something, will you say something?Viewpoints, Nov. 25]. What vile act had this community member performed? She had called Village Trustee Dan Moroney a “whyte supremacist” in a Facebook comment.
Baron started by defining the term terrorism as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Immediately, he undercut himself by acknowledging that this community member’s words were in no sense illegal. But he went on to claim that “the attack on Moroney, while not unlawful, is emotional and psychological violence.”
I think Mr. Baron needs some perspective on violence. Violence is living in a neighborhood stripped of economic and community resources because the people who live there are seen as unimportant. Violence is living in a country that has been destabilized by the U.S. military because the people who live there are seen as expendable. Violence is being forced to live through this pandemic without health insurance. Violence is the lack of education funding in many parts of this state because we insist on paying for it through property taxes.
Violence is not a person of color calling a white man a white supremacist. Mr. Baron may disagree with the use of the term, but it is not violence. And it certainly does not justify saying that this community member of color was engaged in terrorism.
Mr. Moroney has made many problematic decisions during his time on the village board, not least of which was appearing on a right-wing radio talk show after a board discussion of a new equity policy about a year ago. But what troubles me even more than Moroney’s decisions has been his refusal to demonstrate any kind of self-reflection about those decisions, or any admission that he could have done things differently. Instead, he has doubled down, insisting that he is in the right and that everyone else is wrong.
And now, after this Facebook comment, it has happened again. Moroney lashed out against this community member in now-deleted Twitter posts, demonstrating no recognition of how his own decisions have led some of his constituents to think of him as a white supremacist. And Baron has rushed to Moroney’s defense, demonstrating no reflection on how his and Moroney’s whiteness informs this discussion, or what the impact might be of a white man claiming that a person of color has engaged in terrorism.
The only way we can address the crisis of white supremacy and racism in our country is for white men like Moroney, like Baron, and yes, like me to start by acknowledging when we make mistakes. This will not “solve” racism, but it would be a place to start. We must be able to say when we’ve made mistakes, acknowledge the harm, and seek repair.
In this case, I’d like to suggest that they pause, reflect on what has happened, and reach out to some other white community members who might be able to help them see how their actions have caused harm. I suggest that they start by having this conversation with other white people so that they don’t continue to perpetuate the harm they are causing to people of color.
Although I don’t know Mr. Moroney or Mr. Baron, I offer to have this conversation with them myself, or to connect them to other white people in the community who would be willing to have this conversation.
I am not claiming that this conversation will solve all these issues, but I think this conversation among white people could be a first step for us to understand the harm we are causing, acknowledge the harm, and start to repair. I hope that Mr. Baron and Mr. Moroney will agree.
Jim Schwartz is an Oak Park resident, an educator, and a blogger at Entwining.org.