I’ve been mulling over the comments from Matt Baron that were recently published in this newspaper and then rightly lamented by the publisher. By now, no one needs me to rehash them entirely as I’m not the first to react. The words were in and of themselves racist and derogatory, whether intended or not. To single out Muslim members of our community as terrorist, especially when the views they express are not unique in the community, is clearly racist and reinforcing stereotypes. And, coming from Baron, who has a long career in communications, it can hardly be considered an oversight.
What’s more unfortunate is that after time for reflection, Baron reasserted his comments in a manner that demonstrated he learned very little from the objections to his rhetoric. He further added to the harm by responding to these rejections in his official capacity as an elected official — using time in a board meeting to address his personal business.
As is all too common, all of that was enveloped in the absurdity of hiding behind tolerance. But tolerance does not mean any view is acceptable. Tolerance is rooted in justice, fairness, and equity. Expressing views that perpetuate stereotypes of oppressed groups is in opposition to tolerance and should be condemned in a community that values diversity and inclusion.
We should also remember that this event occurred because the person Baron attacked said what many of us in the community believe. That Dan Maroney, a candidate for village president, has in his current service as a village trustee repeatedly expressed views that served the perpetuation of white supremacy.
These views were most prevalent in his comments at the board table on the Diversity Statement. In those discussions, he fought against including “breaking down systems of oppression” at more than one meeting. He also lobbied for the inclusion of adding “political perspective” alongside the legitimate list of historically oppressed categories, which include race, gender, and sexual orientation. Both attempts served to water down the statement and reduce the intensity in which the village would be encouraged to act.
To my mind, these actions demonstrate that neither of these persons are in sync with the values we hold dear in Oak Park. While there is still much to accomplish, the core values of our community for the past five decades have been about building a community that is more tolerant, more inclusive, and more equitable.
If we are to continue on that trajectory, we will need leaders in our community willing to embrace the hard truths of structural racism, systemic oppression, and, yes, white supremacy. Those who want to minimize these truths by incongruently arguing for tolerance will lead us in the wrong direction.
Rob Breymaier is the former executive director of the Oak Park Regional Housing Center and a former member of the District 97 school board.