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A Wise Response to an Ignorant Person

My editor, Mary Heveron-Smith, encountered some racist push-back recently.  She published a response in the Webster Online News and Opinions Blog, and I am reprinting that here with her permission:

Dear Woman Who Drove by the “Black Lives Matter” Webster, NY Rally This Summer and Yelled at Us:

Here’s what you missed by not stopping by:

  • A student-led peaceful rally with young people who spoke from their hearts about their own painful, lived experiences as people of color;
  • A heartfelt talk (by the son-in-law of my longtime friend) on struggling to find his voice as a young Black man;
  • A talk by our school superintendent on how important it is to listen – really listen — to the concerns of the young and to our neighbors of color.

Maybe you fear, as some say, that the “Black Lives Matter” movement is against policing and law enforcement. Maybe you don’t know that my uncle was the late Frank Heveron, the Rochester policeman who directed traffic at Main and Clinton back in the day. Or that my husband Steve served four years in the U.S. Navy and was there with me at the rally, reaching out to other veterans.

Maybe you don’t know that I’m a retired English teacher here who attended the memorials some years ago for my former student’s dad, the police lieutenant who died in the line of duty here in Webster – and that, as the school newspaper adviser, I spent countless hours on a special tribute issue to that man.

Maybe you don’t stop to think that even a deep respect for law enforcement cannot cancel the outrage we all should have that Black and Indigenous people and other people of color are being killed by police at a rate out of proportion to White people. (Police violence is the sixth leading cause of death for a Black man, who is 2.5 more likely to be killed by police than a White man. At current levels, a Black man faces a 1 in 1,000 chance of being killed by police. The statistics come from the Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences of the United States of America, or PNAS, Aug. 20, 2019.)

Maybe you didn’t realize that, when you drove by our peaceful gathering, and yelled, “F*ck you, protesters!” that standing just behind me was a Black boy, maybe 4 years old. When he asked what just happened, his mother said, “It’s okay, baby. A woman just said a bad word. Let’s go find Daddy.”

Maybe you have read about redlining, “racial covenants,” and exclusionary zoning laws that have kept Black people out of our suburbs and think of these things as from the past. Then maybe you haven’t read closely enough to see how these policies have created the county we have today. (“Confronting Racial Covenants: How They Segregated Monroe County and What to do About Them,” just released by City Roots Community Land Trust and the Yale Environmental Protection Clinic.)

Maybe you never heard about the long-term adverse effects that post-World War II racist housing policies had not only on returning Black veterans, but also on their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. While White returning veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill, which gave them low-interest loans to buy their first homes, the Black veterans were at the mercy of a hostile Veterans Administration and racist Federal Housing Authority guidelines that explicitly excluded African Americans from mortgages. Not getting a house meant not getting something that White people gained from house ownership – equity that passed on through the generations. (Hilary Herbold, “Never a Level Playing Field: Blacks and the G.I. Bill,” in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 1994-1995; Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, 2017.)

Maybe you think there is no reason to proclaim that Black lives “matter.” Maybe you haven’t considered the perspective of local attorney and anti-racism trainer Liz Nicolas, who pointed out in an interview with me recently, “The phrase, ‘Black lives matter,’ is a pretty modest phrase.” To simply matter, she says, means we are being cared about in the most basic way. And for those who can’t get behind Black lives mattering, she asks: “They can’t support the floor for Black lives?”

African woman standing with poster Racism is a virus

And if a “Black Lives Matter” rally still doesn’t resonate with you, then how about a “Black Lives Are Precious” rally? Maybe you could begin by considering the racial harm you inflicted upon people and then hand out a flyer with an apology. And instead of violating a safe space with a profanity, maybe you could use that big voice to yell, “Love you, protesters!”

By Mary Heveron-Smith of Wall Road, Webster

 

I urge you to also view this Instagram video by Ijeoma Olou, author of the best-seller So You Want to Talk About Race.  This is a 17-minute sober and sobering look at violence, including rioting and destruction of property, from the perspective of a Black mother.

 

United Christian Leadership Ministry is holding a Commemoration of the March on Washington Saturday August 29, 2:00 at the Church of God on Clarissa St..  This event is considered a watershed moment in that era’s Civil Rights Movement.

 

19 thoughts on “A Wise Response to an Ignorant Person”

  1. Thank you for such thoughtful responses. Attorney Liz Nicolas really got me thinking about the inequity of the G.I. Bill when I interviewed her for a church article four years ago. That interview made me realize that we need not only to read, but also to find mentors to help us sift through the reading and try to understand what is most important in our quest for racial equity. Among those who have helped me are Rev. Myra Brown, Gloria Johnson-Hovey, Melissa Parrish, Janet Baxter, Mike Boucher, and, of course, Frank Staropoli. And there is so much more to learn.

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  2. I concur with all responses. It is a shame that people can be so cowardly and disrespectful. Thank you for responding Mary!

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  3. So few have been informed about the terrible obstacles that have been placed before our black and brown brothers and sisters. Redlining in Housing, denying black soldiers access to the GI Bill, denial of FHA loans to people of color and many other deliberate exclusionary practices are shameful and responsible for the poverty that lies at the root of our most serious social injustices. Education is the necessary process for all of us to correct these injustices and level the playing field. There is so much to learn if only we are willing to make the leap of faith.

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  4. This was a wonderful, thoughtful and challenging response. I can only hope that somehow her words are heard and understood by folks like the woman in the car. But some ears are closed and hearts hardened — and that is the great sadness. Much non-violent work to be done.
    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Frank,

    Powerful and resonant with Ta-Nehesi Coates who writes about particular black lives lost in the Dream, the myth of being white. When we generalize, we dismiss, or worse, oppress. We need to connect, and connection requires conversation, and conversation requires listening to one another’s particular experience. Thank you for sharing Mary’s.

    Charlie

    P.S. I miss you, friend.

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