Two weeks ago in the Oak Park newspaper Wednesday Journal, District 200 school board member Matt Baron claimed that a member of this community who is a Muslim woman had engaged in “a form of terrorism” and referenced the 9-11 era slogan, “If you see something, say something”. Baron was writing in defense of Village Trustee Dan Moroney, who this community member had labeled a white supremacist in a comment on one of the newspaper’s Facebook posts.
Last week in this newspaper, Wednesday Journal editor Dan Haley and editorial page editor Ken Trainor each wrote separate pieces explaining their role in this situation and their reactions to it. As editors of the paper, both were responsible for Baron’s letter being published. Both of them acknowledged that they should not have printed it because of the references to terrorism.
“It was my editing oversight” that led to Baron’s piece being included in the paper, admitted Trainor. “We need to do better,” stated Hayes. However, both of them wrote about these two distinct actions — a Muslim woman calling a white man a white supremacist, and a white man claiming that this Muslim woman had engaged in terrorism — as being morally equivalent. “We should say what we mean instead of shooting paintballs,” wrote Trainor, equating both of these actions with shooting those paintballs. Haley described each term as “a pejorative label”.
However, these two distinct actions — a Muslim woman calling a white man a white supremacist, and a white man claiming that this Muslim woman had engaged in terrorism — are not actually morally equivalent. This white man might feel uncomfortable at being labeled. This Muslim woman might feel a very reasonable fear of a hate crime being perpetrated against her for her perceived “terrorism”. Both Hayes and Trainor admitted to fault, but neither apologized for the harm that they caused. In fact, they gave the white man the benefit of the doubt not extended to the Muslim woman by removing the Muslim woman’s Facebook comment almost immediately while allowing this white man’s writing to stay posted on their website for over a week.
I wrote here last week that the only way we can address the crisis of white supremacy in this country is for white men to start acknowledging our own mistakes. I appreciate that Hayes and Trainor acknowledged their error in printing Baron’s letter, but this acknowledgment doesn’t go far enough.
We white men don’t just need to acknowledge our mistakes….we need to admit the harm we have caused, and then actively work to repair it. We all know this when we think about our personal relationships. When we make a mistake that hurts our spouse, our child, our parent, it is not enough to say, “What I did was wrong.” We also must acknowledge the impact of our mistake in that relationship and say, “I’m sorry.” And then we need to demonstrate through changed actions that we are trying to do differently in the future.
In addressing racism, we must do the same at all levels — in our personal relationships, in our work relationships, in private, in public, and even with ourselves. That is by no means enough to remove the systems of oppression — mass incarceration, education funding dependent on community wealth, the financial wealth gap, and on and on — that define our society. But if we white men could truly grow and learn through our mistakes in this way, it would be a start to addressing each of those systems. By showing up in a way that demonstrates our commitment to changing ourselves and the system, it would be a beginning.
So Mr. Hayes and Mr. Trainor — you have admitted a mistake. How can you acknowledge and apologize for the harm you have caused to this Muslim woman community member? How can you commit to doing better in the future and then follow through? I am asking you those questions. I am asking them of myself and every other white man in this community too.
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