We need to have a conversation of repair

Opinion: Columns

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Jim Schwartz

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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.

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Reader Comments

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John Duffy  

Posted: December 17th, 2020 9:00 AM

James, thank you for another thoughtful piece and valuable guidance on how to begin to heal relationships where so many have endured conscious and un-conscious harm in our community, nation, and world. This work has been launched at OPRFHS by teachers and Board member Gina Harris. They are facilitating healing and reparation through a emotionally open sharing you are probably aware of?"peace circles. D 200 is also planning racial and equity dialogues in the wider community, an idea CEEE proposed to the Superintendent and District over the last 4 years. In the 1980s community racial equity activists and organizers across groups called these Dialogues on Diversity. I believe we need community efforts like these today, and the several ongoing more personal, small group efforts like those coordinated by Dot Roche, and faith based seminars like the 1619 Project discussion that were taking place at First United Church before the pandemic. But adaptive change around personal beliefs about race and equity need parallel institutional and government policy support. Sadly, our Village government, at least those in control today, resist equity based policies and formal equity centered accountability. Oak Parkers have a chance to change that in the April Village election and launch bold actions like this community took up 50 years ago around racially integrated housing and schools. For those seeking a new political order in the Village, I invite you to investigate and consider supporting the Represent Oak Park candidates for Trustees: Anthony Clark, Juanta Griffin, and Chibuike Enyia, all three of whom are Black and active in the community. For Village President, I believe Cate Readling, who has worked indefatigably for social justice in Oak Park, provides an inclusive vision and proposes racially equitable policies around participatory budgeting, expanding affordable housing, balanced, sustainable economic development, and a restructuring of spending for policing,.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: December 5th, 2020 11:02 AM

That's the real and troubling downside of censorship, Ms. Agarwal. And that is all this was. It's unspoken supposition is that it's not enough to oppose and criticize and even condemn an opinion, but that it must remove it from view. That's an extremely misguided policy/philosophy.

Lydia Anne Agarwal  

Posted: December 5th, 2020 7:21 AM

It seems extremely problematic that Matt Baron's original piece seems to have been removed. We are now left with only the critique of his words and are therefore unable to form our own conclusions on the validity of these accusations.

Bill Maxwell  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 12:01 PM

Mr. Schwartz having a conversation is like trying to talk to the system. Where is this conversation and when is it going to happen and how many people can attend this conversation and when will it be held and now with the virus, it makes it even more difficult although people can certainly continue mentioning about, "Having the conversation". In the mean time, why any White supremist is not asking why Dan Maroney's picture on the home page has not moved down with new news is why many just are not aware. That is the question that can be asked right now because that is still promoting Moroney unfairly as other new news always moves the old news down. Start with what's in front of you Mr. Schwartz, and do not delay. Ask today

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 10:37 AM

Well put by Mr. Schwartz. While it's probably next to impossible to come to agreement on all issues, it's eminently possible to agree on what constitutes actual "terror" and "violence" and avoid broadening their definitions to the point of absurdity where they mean whatever anyone wants them to mean.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: December 4th, 2020 9:28 AM

An outstanding piece, Jim. I notice that the usual suspects on the WJ comment threads are strangely absent. But maybe your piece will prod Moroney out of hiding and into the sunlight. Oak Park voters need to get a better look at him before they vote.

Deb Brown  

Posted: December 2nd, 2020 3:05 PM

Nicely put. Escalating a problem rarely solves it. But open discussion and especially reflection can make a difference. The thing about racism is that it is everywhere and that's why it's called systematic. That status quo is basically racist. People have to start putting themselves in other people's shoes and understanding what their actions or inactions represent.

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