The point of view/column in Hudson Valley One by Carol Bergman, “Truth and reconciliation in one small town” of 3-2-22 does not only fail to accurately reflect the messages of Concerned Parents of New Paltz it actually dismisses them as well as the group. The heartfelt honesty is bypassed which was shared in a public event hosted by BLM@School at SUNY New Paltz as part of Black History Month’s Educational Programs.
The very title of the column was a misconception. The event was not about truth and reconciliation. The writer seemed to miss the essence of the event which was to share our experiences in organizing and creating structural changes in the school district and within law enforcement, as well as educating people on the manifestations of racism of which white people are too often unaware. We focused on the difficulties faced and our call for people to step up to the plate with long-term commitments to work on such changes, despite the push back too often by well-meaning white liberals who have not shown the courage to deal with their own race-based entitlement nor the ability or willingness to give up their supremacist demand to control the narrative of racial experiences by the very people who suffer the oppression. The event was a combination of our history and the future of the work.
The writer was “alarmed by the tenor of the discourse, particularly the accusation that some of the white liberal’s racial justice initiatives ….were merely performative.” Instead of trying to learn something about racism, the author expresses her “white fragility” with demeaning language showing her inability to take leadership from the community of color that clearly are people with direct experience on a daily basis that white people typically lack! We read her judgment that anti-racist work needs to go slow and that our efforts are only a “way station” to a truth and reconciliation process which she had decided is what the movement for racial equity and social justice is to be according to her white liberal standards–a process that will make her feel more comfortable. We are told to wait until government laws are passed to create change.
Even more demeaning, she writes about the need for facilitation by “trained professionals” which she feels should be used for this work as she does not like the language of discussion and ignores the comradery that existed between the participants who did not always agree, but have survived due to the respect, acceptance, and commitment that underlies much of the work accomplished. According to this Op-Ed, people of color working for decades have little to no credibility to lead a discussion or movement. According to our history, there is no requirement that leaders of movements for social justice are required to hold Ph. D.’s! I wonder what people like Harriet Tubman or Fannie Lou Hamer would say if criticized in the manner of this white writer!
And for some reason the author felt the need to give credit to a white woman for the ceremonious integration of an old French Huguenot Church Cemetery by the burial of an excavated enslaved African skull. In fact, that ceremony was led by Dr. A.J. Williams-Myers, Dr. Modele Clarke, Dr. Margaret Wade-Lewis, and other people of color. It felt insulting that the author had to try to find an excuse for her elitist attitudes towards the presenters.
If the writer had been listening, she would have heard the history of the multi-racial Concerned Parents of New Paltz’s active involvement in discovering the enslaved African burial site on Huguenot Street, New Paltz and the many years of annual commemorative ceremonies conducted at that site.
It saddens and frustrates those of us who have been doing the hard work of organizing, educating and attempting to change the racist structures in our social institutions and attitudes within people who lack the tools to understand their own racism, inadvertent as it may be. With all the work of many brilliant individuals who write and speak out about the manifestations of racism, when we see here a white liberal still trying to define for us what is legitimate work and expression of our pain, we see here the evidence of how far we still have to go. While we participated in this public meeting open to all who are interested, it should have been the responsibility of white people to come with some sense of humility and an open mind to hear and learn and not just see this as an opportunity to add to their resume.
As both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X noted, white liberals are often our own worst enemy. Learning to be a good ally takes work; it is a challenge to one’s white supremacy to learn to be able to accept leadership from people who may not do things the same ways many white middle class people do. We hope this response will be seen and accepted as an educational prompt to those who truly support significant change.
If you have any questions or comments, please email email@example.com or call (845) 255-9652.
Deborah Fialkow, Chair of zoom event of 2-22-22
For Concerned Parents of New Paltz