Adding one more crisis to the mix

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

This country is suffering from myriad crises at the moment: Trust (in government and each other), Faith (in our institutions, including voting), Health Care (during a pandemic), Opioids, Economic Inequality, the Culture War, Political Polarization, Police Violence, a Reckoning on Race, Global Climate (hurricanes and wildfires) and, of course, the biggest of all: the Truth Crisis. It's overwhelming. You might say we're afflicted by a crisis of crises.

But we need to add one more: We have a Labeling Crisis.

I realized this while editing Matt Baron's letter last week in Viewpoints about an online commenter — a Muslim woman, which I didn't know at the time — who labeled Village Trustee Dan Moroney, now a candidate for village president, a "white supremacist," which might sound outrageous to anyone who equates white supremacists with white nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan, skinheads, and neo-Nazis. The latter four groups are abhorrent to most of us, but the label "white supremacist" has undergone some expansion in recent years. I resisted the term at first. In fact, I was downright defensive and felt unfairly labeled, but eventually I came around to accepting the notion that America is a culture built on the firm belief that white Americans are superior and Black Americans are inferior. A less strident label for this would be "white dominance" or "white privilege."

It has always been so and continues to this day, in spite of noteworthy progress. White supremacy (or dominance) has come to mean that pretty much all white Americans — to varying degrees — contribute to perpetuating our white-dominant system. It's true that many of us work — to varying degrees — to change an unjust system where whites are privileged and "superior" over and against people of color, who are treated as "inferior" and remain generally underprivileged. 

But until white Americans finally abolish this two-tier system, we are all — to some degree — "complicit" in perpetuating a system of white supremacy. Though it is not of our making, it is definitely of our continuance. We sustain this system unconsciously, largely through our defensiveness and avoidance of the issue. 

Few of us are intentional, deliberate white supremacists (or white dominators), and I know Dan Moroney just enough to believe he is not an intentional, deliberate supremacist. I hope he is working in his way to change that system by examining his own biases when he finds them, which is what I am also struggling to do — and it is a struggle.

Shaming him with a label, however, is like shooting a paint ball at someone else for a societal ill that, to some extent, we all suffer from. The "white supremacist" label has plenty of impact, but it doesn't get us very far.

If you think Dan is not doing enough to change our white-dominant system in his capacity as a village trustee, you should certainly say so — preferably while providing examples. Maybe it will cause him to do some soul-searching — or not. But we'll get further without the paintballs. As a reformed paintballer myself, I can attest to this. 

The problem with labeling is that the terms are often inexact, confusing, and lead to wildly different interpretations. Those interpretations, we need to point out, are often evasive maneuvers, used by defensive whites to keep from facing the real, and uncomfortable, issues underlying the labels.

"Defund the Police," for instance, is probably the worst slogan in the history of slogans. It is dramatic and grabs your attention, but it has a serious strategic weakness: It allows the opposition to misinterpret it, often intentionally, leading potential allies to clamp their hands over their ears and tune us out.

What "defunding police" really means is "reinventing policing," i.e. taking the pressure off police so they can more effectively focus on their real mission — which remains to be redefined by the public they serve, especially people of color. But if we really mean "reinventing policing," we should say so instead of hiding behind misleading labels. 

Black Lives Matter is a far better slogan, but it ran into similar troubles. Defensive, evasive whites decided that it really meant "Black lives matter more than white lives." As if that could ever happen. What it really means is "Black lives matter as much as white lives." That's too long for a slogan, though, which allows too many white Americans to dodge the real issue.

Socialism is another misleading label, thanks to decades of right-wing media propaganda. Conservatives hear "socialism" and have been conditioned to think "Lenin!" "Stalin!" "Castro!" "Chavez!" instead of public libraries, national parks, and universal health care. What socialism really means in this country is "Capitalism with a Conscience." Conscientious Capitalism is a much better label than socialism. 

Calling someone a "racist," meanwhile, really means, "You have racism within you, just like the rest of us who grew up in this racist system. And your hidden biases at the moment are not so hidden."

Our labels keep getting in the way of what we really mean. We should say what we mean instead of shooting paintballs. Labelism is a small but significant crisis.

I hope Dan Moroney is working to reduce whatever racism and white supremacy might lurk within him. I also hope he's working to change our system of inequity. I hope the same is true of Matt Baron, who attached the "terrorism" label to Dan's accuser, who is Muslim, which was definitely out of bounds. And it was my editing oversight in failing to flag that.

Obviously, I have more than enough work to do on myself before I start slapping labels on anyone. 

The only label I want to earn is "antiracist" and I still have a long way to go.

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

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Reader Comments

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: December 6th, 2020 5:25 PM

William I was not being sarcastic as you surmise. And furthermore I agree with you. Happy holidays to you; and hopefully a better New Year for all of us.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: December 6th, 2020 3:46 PM

Wait... you were being sarcastic, Bruce?! :-). . Seriously, we both survived, didn't we? You have a right to respond to my posts. If I can't handle the heat, I should stay off the comment board. Human discourse isn't always comfortable. We're definitely agreed on that. Stay well.

Lopez Ramona  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 9:21 PM

@Ms. Knott Dawson. I'm sorry, but data and statistics do not support your claim that your friend was in danger. According to www.newamerica.org, in the state of Illinois there have only been 20 documented incidents of anti-Muslim activity since 2012 and the last one occurred in July of 2018. Rhetoric like yours is instilling fear in people when its not warranted. You stated there are not hoards of POC who are violent against white folks. Again, according to the 2019 Bureau of Justice Statistics report, 89,980 black people were victims of a violent crime where the offender was white. 472,570 white people were victims of violent crime where the offender was black. From 2005 to 2019 the rate of victimization against black peoples fell 43%. The rate of victimization against whites fell 24%. Your false narrative is what's making people feel unsafe.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 8:18 PM

@Ben. Ken and company don't concern themselves with such mundane matters.

Ben Venuti  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 7:12 PM

But no comment from Ken re: the crime crisis. 3800 shot in Chicago through November. Murders up 54% to 716. Carjackings up 125% to over 1100. I guess a crisis is in the eye of the beholder.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 6:52 PM

Well William despite our sometimes heated sarcastic dialogue between the two of us, it appears we do agree on foundational core values as you've eloquently so stated.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 4:52 PM

This whole controversy is why, IMO, there will never be a truly fulsome and honest or productive dialogue regarding race in Oak Park, because so many people in this village can't deal with the opinions of others that pis them off o upset their personal sense of right and wrong. They just can't handle it, so they whine and moan and insist that all that offends them be taken down, and they even rip into the very people who facilitate the dialogue. Because they are oh so certain of their own morality and rectitude. Spare me. A real dialogue takes much more than far too many people in Oak Park are capable of accepting- i.e., being offended sometimes and getting over it.

Deborah Wess  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 3:12 PM

William Dwyer, your suggestion to "call them out on it" was exactly what the original poster did, as she doesn't like Mr. Moroney's words nor at least some of his actions. But her words (an *opinion*, let's not forget, never presented as reportage nor any other form of discourse) were censored, supposedly found lacking for "not much context:", as Dan Haley said in his non-apology. She, unlike Mr. Haley himself, seemed to have no trouble recalling his paper's reporting last Oct. and his own editorial about Mr. Moroney choosing to appear on Proft's radio show. Yet the WJ had no trouble printing Mr. Baron's opinion, although by running it without her original post it lacked that very context for which she was criticized. I know of several WJ (though not oakpark.com) readers who felt his piece was "coded gibberish". They had no idea what he was talking about and felt WJ did them a disservice by not providing that. Of course, some readers and opinion writers are more equal than others, as Dan Haley's response made abundantly clear. Some submit their pieces to the Viewpoints editor (who failed in his duty to duly edit the piece [why was Mr. Baron allowed to sling shit, as it were, without naming names?], but some have the editor/publisher's private number and can call or text at will, asking for favors. Words, names, and labels do matter, as any young child is well aware. They always have and I can't imagine they ever will not. Therefore, those whom we trust (even pay for the privilege!) of packaging and presenting words to us have special duties, journalistic standards and ethics. Whether a "real" paper or non-profit hybrid of some kind, WJ utterly failed to uphold those in this sad case. I can't help noticing that once again, Mr. Moroney and those who write on his behalf have caused a local woman to receive death threats. Mr. Haley, perhaps that would be a worthwhile news story to assign. Because at least you and Mr. Trainor belatedly acknowledge that words matter.

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 6:59 PM

@Bill, you are talking about integrity or the "feelings" of a white person. I am talking about the physical safety of my friend, a Muslim. Racist, in Illinois, are dangerous. Trump has proven that racialize rhetoric, increases racist acts of violence against POC. Yes, the White men who were called racist may get their feelings hurt and be sad. But the community member, may be physically harmed. Those two outcomes are not equal. And, no, White folks don't get to tell non White folks, to not be scared of racist violence. Not in 2020. Not in a country that 70,000,000 White folks voted for an unapologetic racist and White supremacist. Nope you don't get to tell POC that we have no reason to be scared because of your rhetoric. This community member feels justifiably unsafe because of the actions, or inactions, of this paper. People are posting about where she lives! She is getting letter at her house! Racism is not a game and it not just about words. America is a country that is steeped in violence against POC, and that has escalated during these past years. If you are anti-racist and want to eradicate racism, you have to own up to your part and do everything in your power to protect those who are really in danger. And, the reality is there are not hoards of POC who are violent against White folks because of racism. Racial violence is real and this piece has put a target on a community member. And, no, White folks, don't get to tell us we are over-reacting with our fear of white violence because of racism and White Supremacy. Not in 2020 with a country that Donald Trump as the president. Nope, you do not get to tell us what, or whom, to be afraid of.

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 6:30 PM

Dear Ken and Dan: Your responses to this act of racism has sadden and angered me. I'm especially sad for the POC on staff at the Wednesday Journal, that have to witness the leaders of the WJ, their bosses, both White men, be apologists for racists and participants in the harassment of a Muslim community member. This is unacceptable. I am not an employee of the WJ, but I am frequent contributor and I want you to know,: Ken and Dan, your actions are hurtful and racist. You have made POC feel less safe and made your workplace, a hostile, oppressive work environment. My prayers are for those folks of color, who work for and with you. For them, I hope you own up to failures in judgement, do the work to learn about eradicating racism in the country and in your workplace, and issue a proper apology to your contribution to racism in our community.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 6:17 PM

So, this is another "crisis," i.e., "a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger." Not getting it. This is way overblown. Many people in Oak Park really struggle to accept that arguments sometimes get people's noses out of joint. Here's an idea- if you don't like what someone says, call them out on it. But all this is is whining about the terms people use.

Dylan Saldrich  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 5:28 PM

Thanks for this. Our labels keep getting in the way of what we really mean. This is so true.

Steve Krasinsky  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 12:16 PM

Ken, I feel you trying, but you're missing the most important part. The part where you apologize for amplifying the Islamophobic words of Matt Baron & the part where you actually accept responsibility, and apologize for the very real hurt and pain your actions inflicted on a valued family in our community. Also, it's time to stop giving Dan the benefit of the doubt. It's not an accident that people like Matt Baron support and defend him. I don't know if Dan Moroney is a white supremacist, but the white supremacists sure think he is.

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