Elections Issues Highlight A Racial Undercurrent– Incendiary Rhetoric Is Shameful
By William Legault
What follows are not words that I am happy to write. They make me uncomfortable, but from my perspective they are the truth.
Last year, as Salem was searching for a new Superintendent of Schools I made it a point to attend one of the community meetings that were held with each the three finalists, Dr. Ayinde Rudolph. He was considered the least qualified and least experienced of the remaining candidates.
During the period where he took questions from the sparse crowd he called on a
young man in his twenties, a product of Salem and our school system. The question asked was “ What will you do to address those families and children in our schools who refuse to learn English and assimilate to our culture?” The questioner then went on to detail how his French-Canadian grandparents did so quickly and willingly.
Ayinde hesitated for a moment, and then after a sigh gave the young man an opportunity to re-frame his question. He then made a simple statement and asked a simple question. “In my short time here I have noticed that there is a very strong and very ugly racial undercurrent in this city, he said. It seems to be deeply rooted. Why are the people here in Salem not talking about this?”
It was a bold utterance, especially by a man looking for a job.
There is that very undercurrent in Salem still. You can deny it. You can rationalize it. You can even be one of those who try to justify it. It is here, it is deep, and it is time to accept that and move to address it.
We are a multi-cultural community and have been for many decades. Little Dublin on Derby Street in the 1800’s became Little Poland in the 1900’s. The High Street area was home base for Italian-Americans. The Point neighborhood began the the 20th Century as a French-Canadian enclave and evolved into a Latino neighborhood. Greeks and Russians mixed in as they arrived. None of them surrendered their language or their culture. The French built their own school and their own church where they studied and worshipped in their own language. Our city is dotted with churches that were built for a particular ethnicity or nationality.
None of the Europeans who settled here gave up their language or their culture. Assimilation took place over generations.
The Latinos are no different, except in skin color. Aye, there’s the rub.
The current controversy is not new. I had heard rumbling as long as ten years ago, and spoke with some on the matter when I wrote for another local publication five years ago. Those that did not hear either weren’t listening, or for obvious reasons weren’t included in the conversation.
The City Council had an opportunity, and an obligation to deal with this matter late last summer and into the fall. I tried in that regard and I failed. It seemed that leadership and a few others were more concerned with circling the wagons The decision was to either ignore it, or move it down the road in the hopes that it would go away. It has not and will not go away under those terms. The city council has reaped as it sowed and now must deal with it.
It is time for us to understand that while the city as a whole is not racist, there is a large resentment among some who have been here longer against the newer residents. The newer citizens have been given opportunities that our parents and grandparents were not given. This is true, but that is because times change and we do many things better than we used to do. This attitude exists and it should not. We are better than that.
On the other side of the equation I am disappointed on the timing of the Latino Coalition in waiting until just before the Presidential primary to bring this to the press. It speaks of politics being the priority instead of the issue itself being the priority. It is unwise to accuse the city council of playing politics when the guilt goes both ways.
When it comes to the incendiary comments made by Mickey Northcutt my feelings are more towards anger. We are not Ferguson, that comparison is odious. We are also not Flint. Curb the provocative rhetoric and begin the discussion
Mr. Northcutt owes Salem an apology or last an explanation of his remarks and the City Council needs to deal with the fact that is does have a place in this conversation.