How we talk to each other is important. And how we talk to each other pretty much determines if we listen.
This has all been on display in Oak Park over the past Thanksgiving week on social media, in the pages of the Journal and on our comment board at OakPark.com.
I’ve got a role in this which I want to acknowledge and a point of view that I want to share and leave open for response.
It started with a news article, pretty run-of-the-mill — who is running for re-election, who is not — that I asked our village hall reporter Stacey Sheridan to report out.
Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb had not yet announced if he was running for a third term. And in our article he still did not announce. Trustee Dan Moroney was the last of the current trustees whose term ends next April to not declare. In our article he said his decision was overdue and would come soon.
No big news. The sort of story that moves things along a little bit.
The story was first posted online and on Facebook and last Wednesday made our print edition.
It was on our Facebook page where a local person posted a comment calling Moroney a white supremacist. That was about the gist of the comment. Not much context. No case made to prove the point. The commenter was a local Muslim woman.
The comment was called to my attention by Matt Baron, an OPRF board member and someone I’ve known a long time, either in an email or a text. I was busy doing other things and it took me several hours to really take a look. At that point I asked a colleague to take the comment down. Completely my decision.
We take comments down. Not often but it happens. I’m comfortable that this is part of our job to monitor our platforms and remove comments that are defamatory or otherwise out of bounds. Certainly will acknowledge that there is a subjective aspect to those sincere judgments.
Baron then sent the Journal a letter to the editor which ran in print last week. The letter should not have run for the same reason the comment, in my opinion, needed to come down. There was wording in the letter related to “see something, say something,” duffle bags being left in public places that was code for terrorism. It should have jumped out at us as inappropriate. It didn’t. That is on us. We need to do better.
Since all this began, Dan Moroney has announced that he is running for village president. Sheridan reported that story online Sunday afternoon.
It sent me back to our archives from a year ago when Moroney was in the news — locally and well beyond — for appearing on a right-wing local radio talk show. It followed a controversy at the board table when Trustee Susan Buchanan was making an ardent point and in that moment fully lost her temper and said several things she rightly later regretted about her board colleagues.
Moroney went on Dan Proft’s talk show and made things a lot worse. He rightly got lacerated on social media, in citizen comments at the next board meeting and, by me, in this column.
Looking for cover, Moroney said that he and Buchanan had sat down privately to “discuss what has transpired and recognizing what unites us, rather than what divides us.”
Now there is the ultimate political statement.
And here was my response in that 14-month-old column:
“Sure there is a lot that unites us. The path forward, though, is in focusing in productive ways on what divides us. Because what divides us is foundational and it needs to get sincerely and imperfectly sorted out. It is about racism, it is about sexism, it is about systems of oppression, it is about an inability or unwillingness to listen. It is about control.
“It is always about control.”
My point a year ago is that talking about race and equity, if you’re doing it right, is painful, hard, and can easily go awry. So choose words carefully. Be articulate. Go deeper.
These are not things social media does well. And so, in my view, it makes real, necessary conversation harder.
As Oak Park begins a campaign for village president, equity has to be top of mind. As I’ve said 10 times, this village government has failed on equity. And debating Dan Moroney’s pretty much right-out-in-the-open views on race, equity and governance is entirely fair and necessary.
So all that said, I was surprised as I reread that column to find this line:
“Dan Proft is a right-wing conspiracy hack. He hosts a low-rated Chicago radio talk show that speaks mainly to white supremacy.”
I think that is accurate. I did not personally call Proft a white supremacist. It was in the context of a 600-word column.
I know white supremacy is real. It permeates our institutions and it permeates us as individual white people. But to me it still feels unproductive to just hurl the term “white supremacist” at someone as a pejorative label.
I think I’m right. Or it could just be another blind spot in a lifetime of blind spots that I’m working on. Some of you, I’m sure, will have opinions.