Community struggling with comments


By Jim Poole

Although racist comments by the Mayor and Supervisor rocked Cobleskill to its roots, the controversy may also be an opportunity to expose the problem and address it.
That’s the opinion of people who believe racism should be attacked collectively as a community and personally as individuals.
Since village Mayor Mark Nadeau and town Supervisor Tom Murray were caught on tape using the n-word two weeks ago, many have called for their resignations.
Others, however, believe there’s a deeper strain of slights and slurs that go unreported but hurt blacks and African-Americans nonetheless.
“I’ve talked to people. There’s stuff out there,” said town Councilman Ken Hotopp. “Think about it. There are things you hear that shouldn’t be said.”
Effie Bennett, an African-American who taught at SUNY Cobleskill for years, said she encountered the n-word several times in her career.
“People who use it don’t understand the significance of the word,” Ms. Bennett said. “One word can stigmatize a whole group.”
Having talked to many people since the uproar broke, Mr. Hotopp said he’s willing to try to get an anti-prejudice statement on the books for the town.
As far as Mr. Hotopp knows, neither the town nor village has such a statement.
“It has to be something about conduct both in public and private, maybe a censure if you violate it,” Mr. Hotopp said. “It’s a start, at least.”
Beyond that, Pat Hults, a member of ACCORD––A Community Committee on Respect and Diversity––said many strategies exist for communities to deal with racism.
One, for instance, would have members of minorities explain slights that they’ve endured.
“You hear those stories and you say, ‘Oh my God,’ ” Ms. Hults said. “They’re powerful.”
She suggested establishing a townwide committee––not just ACCORD––to look at ideas for combating racism.
But Ms. Hults noted that the committee’s work can’t just be a go-through-the-motions exercise.
“We have to step up and decide we’re going to do something,” she said.
“This is a big opportunity for our community. It shook us up enough to address it, not dismiss it. We can’t let it go.”
People should address racism personally, too, not only with themselves but with friends and family, said Ms. Bennett.
When someone uses the n-word or another slur, “People need to be willing to step up and say something,” she said.
“You don’t need to embarrass the person. Take them aside and say that’s a word we don’t use anymore. It hurts people.”
Mr. Hotopp agreed.
“When it rears its head, we’ve got to say something,” he said. “We have to convince people to talk to friends and family and say we don’t approve of it.”
Being truthful may be the first step, Ms. Bennett said.
“Be honest with yourself and be willing to rectify the situation,” she said.
“We’re not limiting the damage to African-Americans. Hurtful words hurt the speaker as well as the hearer.”