The risk of authenticity

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

Oak Park, this is your village board.

At this moment a sorry mess. An embarrassing mess. But duly elected. And therefore responsible to work diligently and collectively to find a path forward. Not one papered over with apologies and promises to do better. That note is for Susan Buchanan. Not one that involves stirring the pot to gin up wider controversy as a salve to bruised egos. That one's for Dan Moroney.

Over two election cycles, Oak Park voters concocted a fractious village board. This is a group of seven without a common organizing principle. Did we think we'd miss the VMA so soon? A group of seven led by an individual, Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb, who lacks patience for issues beyond economic development and government efficiency. There's the Deno Andrews-Dan Moroney wing of the board that tilts toward libertarian. There's the newly elected Arti Walker-Peddakotla and Susan Buchanan who want local government to earnestly work against society's unfairness and inequities. Simone Boutet was sort of elected with Andrews and Moroney but now feels some sting in perceptions she's not as progressive as Walker-Peddakotla and Buchanan. (And, adding to the stew, she made the preemptive announcement she is running for village president in 2021.) Then there's Jim Taglia, rightly described as this board's glue, the fellow all the various factions talk to. After last week's unravelling, Taglia will need more glue.

The breaking point came a week ago when the village board once again took up revisions to the historically notable diversity statement. Even in the midst of Buchanan's fully uncharacteristic freak-out targeting white men on the board, even with two of those white men — Andrews and Moroney — just not being able to let go of one last obsessive moment over the "systems of oppression" language, the board approved a much improved diversity statement unanimously.

Weird and disorienting. A moment of accomplishment for this board, one centered on inclusion, that revealed profound splits in world view among these seven. While some have suggested that the unanimous vote reflects some foundational agreement, I see no evidence of that. 

Social media has been laced with demands for Buchanan to resign or be forced from office through some undetermined process. Perhaps an equal share of voice has been from people fully excusing Buchanan's outburst, even celebrating it as overdue. I'm for dismissing both those extremes. Resignation is too easy a way out for Buchanan. She was elected to lead, she screwed up, and now she has to do the redemptive work. That said, it is hard not to be legitimately, collectively, angry at white men in this moment. I'm mad at white men. Plenty mad, for reasons historic and also for what happens every damned day. Mad in this moment about Oak Park turning up on the repugnant InfoWars, and every other right-wing conspiracy outlet because an elected white man lit a wick.

But being mad is not a path to progress; it doesn't resolve what aches, what scares. Progress comes by going deep into the division, doing it personally, being vulnerable. 

We're in this mess not just because Susan Buchanan lost her temper or because Dan Moroney felt disrespected. We're in this mess because for all the decades of integration and diversity hype, Oak Park's village government, the elected leaders, have never had an authentic conversation about race, about equity, about how it has shaped their own lives.

Years back, long before OPRF was able to even understand the inequity in its institutional bones, it chose to hire a facilitator and have what it called "courageous conversations," first just among board members, about these complex and defining confusions of race in each of our lives.

This should be the next step for the village board. Set aside the time it takes for the seven people elected to lead this town to be awkward, to fumble for words, to embrace the risk of authentic conversation about race.

Email: Twitter: @OPEditor

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Reader Comments

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Jasper Long from Oak Park  

Posted: October 22nd, 2019 2:30 PM

@ Ramona I would argue that immigrants have benefitted from the protests for equal rights black Americans have fought for, notably the civil rights movement. The Asian American Movement in the late 60s, undoubtedly inspired by Black liberation. And while these other subgroups were coerced into their own ghettos, their forced enclaves were never destroyed or fire-bombed by white mobs to my knowledge. They thrived in their own pockets, without outside interference. They became the model minority. Ellen Wu, in her book about this topic, points out that it wasn't education that saw Asians close their gaps with whites, it was that whites became less racist towards them. Interesting theory. Even the African immigrant does better coming over here, versus the black American. Those whose ancestors are natives to the land, our indigenous Indians and those brought over are the subgroups that struggle the most economically, academically, and with the greater health disparities. And being honest about lynching, the majority of those whites were lynched because of their proximity to blacks, whether protecting them, loving them, etc, the reason was still racism. Why would their faces be prominent when they were not the majority being lynched? That would be like putting the faces of gay men and those w/ mental illness as the face of the Holocaust. They too were murdered but nowhere near the numbers of Jews.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 3:00 PM

Shakti Saty claims Simone Boutet "screams". I cannot recall a single occasion when the trustee has raised her voice to a level that would register above normal conversational tone. What her true intentions are for wanting to serve on the Village board may subject for some to speculate but she has regularly engaged in board discussions on a variety of issues that have never called into question her commitment to serving our community. It has been my observation that the Wednesday Journal had never previously directly taken a credible candidate to task when publishing it's endorsements. Ms. Saty and her quoted sources may have undisclosed insights regarding Boutet's work history that is not public knowledge but it does not seem to hinder her ability to conduct herself in a professional manner as an elected official.

Robert Royals  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 1:52 PM

This morning's Interview with Trustee Moroney :

Christine Vernon  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 1:42 PM

Jason, such a good comment. We now see on a local level, exactly what we see on a national level, a way of conducting a Board that halts all progress, all of the people's business. When I saw the comment on social media "If you elect a clown, expect a circus." It made sense to me on a national level but I never thought the trickle down effect would happen that we would be seeing that same "reality TV" at the local level. All business of the Oak Park Board of Trustees seems to have come to a halt and it has devolved into guerilla warfare by some and guerilla theater by others. This is not acceptable, paid or as is the case in OP, mainly volunteer, if you won't work in the people's best interest, or if you stand in the way of other people working in the people's best interest by ritually harassing them or insulting them, or by shouting them down (and I sincerely hope that going forward we will be able to monitor those instance when verbal harassment and abuse happens, and the number of times that happens, to keep a tally for the next election. No one belongs sitting at that horseshoe in the Council Chambers doing deliberating and decision-making who is abusive in any sense of the word. ShaRonda, this is the first time that I have read something you have written that I understand. I think that is the key to gaining support for any idea or concept.

Ramona Lopez  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 1:39 PM

@ShaRonda. Since you don't believe civility is a worthy position to take, is civil unrest ever been productive? Are the black citizens of Detroit better off today than they were before the riots of 1967? Are the black citizens of Ferguson better off today than they were 5 years ago? I would argue that civil unrest does more harm than good. Why don't we see the level of civil unrest in other minorities like we do in the black community. How often do we see Asians, Hispanics, or Indians march, break windows, burn down buildings, etc for being "oppressed"? We don't, but all of these subgroups are doing better economically and academically than blacks. (Indians and East Asians have a significantly higher household income that whites). Since you brought up being honest about lynching, please don''t forget of the 4,743 documented lynching victims 1,297 were white. Yet, you will NEVER see a picture of a white person lynched in any text book or mainstream media publication. "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results" Albert Einstein. Would it be bad form for me to quote Einstein since I'm neither Jewish or German?

Tommy McCoy  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 1:17 PM

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson since you are are an expert on knowing the problems of all Black people and have become your own self appointed person to speak of oppression, tell me where Mr. Martin Luther King Jr., of all of the marches he had taken, what town gave him the most fear, and this you should know without any research, and by the way, when you are referring to great men, and women, give them the do honor to spell their full name

Mary Jo Erickson from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 12:12 PM

I sincerely hope Oak Park real estate agents are showing this discussion, including a call for incivility, to potential home buyers.

ShaRhonda Knott-Dawson  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 10:13 AM

Dan, I ask this with all sincerity and respect but please tell me any time in history, where civil rights were won or oppressive systems changed by, "But being mad is not a path to progress; it doesn't resolve what aches, what scares. Progress comes by going deep into the division, doing it personally, being vulnerable." I push you on this because what it does is create and perpetuate a version of racial progress in this country that is false. And, it is dangerous for White people to believe that "only Black people or other oppressed people were more nice and civil" things would change. Because that's not our history. The truth is Black folks and a few White folks, went through hell, to get what little progress we have now. I feel it dishonors the sacrifices of MLK, Fred Hampton, and even, Heather Heyer, to pretend that White people were moved by kindness to stop being racist. Ida B. Wells is a journalist giant. I believe the bravest of all American journalists. She knew, the only way to stop lynching, was to be honest and shame the White people who participated in lynching AND those who did nothing to stop it. Truth hurts. And the truth is there are a whole lot of White folks who are ignoring and benefiting from racism and they need be to called out for their apathy and their role in upholding racist systems of oppressions. Maybe I am the Ida B. Wells in this community conversation. But, that doesn't make me a radical. I am not a radical; I am a person that wants to tell the truth about racism in this community and I want White people, especially the "liberal, good White people" to stop patting themselves on the back, while their foot is our (black folks) neck. Dr. Buchanan will apologize, numerous times I am sure, because that is the truth about how America handles racism. It is not through nicety and civility, it is by breaking down those who dare to speak up and punishing them for "not discussing racism in the rules created by White men)

Jason Cohen  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 8:13 AM

I don't feel disrespected by Dr. Buchanan's comments and I am a white male. I have never once thought about what people will think of me when they see me. I haven't had to worry about being judged on my gender, sexual orientation, or color ever. I am lucky I haven't ever had to deal with that. Her comments don't change anything for me and they weren't directed at me so I am not "owed" anything from her. Dr. Buchanan needs to make things right with the board not me. It appears she has done that but time will tell if that's true. I find it especially interesting that a site like Infowars would attack Dr. Buchanan for something the President does on a daily basis and I feel the same for any Trump supporter. It's hard not to call out the hypocrisy of supporting Trump when he does this on a daily basis but I digress. What I want is an effective local government that's focused on working together to solve the real issues in OP. I didn't elect people so they could have dinner parties together. I really could care less who likes each other. I do expect them all to work together to move us forward. Instead of bickering do what you were elected to do. Let's not have our community mimic the horrible political climate of this country. I love OP warts and all. I want to be proud of where I live. None of this makes me proud. All of you need to do better period. You chose to run for office. There's no excuse for insulting each other and losing focus on the important matters at hand. Let's show the country that differing viewpoints can come together and do good for a community.

Shakti Saty from Oak Park  

Posted: October 18th, 2019 12:46 AM

Jim Coughlin, do not believe everything you read on Simone Boutet's facebook page. The president, as well as past and current trustees have been very patient with her and her antics since she took office. She screams "sexism," when the truth is that her mission on the board is not to do what is right for Oak Parkers, but to get the village manager (a woman) fired. We were all warned by this newspaper when they wrote during her campaign, " we are strongly critical of the candidacy of Simone Boutet. She is nothing more than a seriously frustrated longtime [14 years] village employee who did not come close to getting the promotion [village attorney] she wanted from the village board. And for this she wrongly blames the village manager. Boutet is the only woman on the ballot. Do not vote for her on this basis. The village board is a place for hard work, not for grinding an axe."

Amanda Poppenk Massie from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 9:40 PM

It was a "show" and a bad show. What I do know is if any of the men on the board had done and said what Trustee Buchanan said but to the "white women" on the Board they would've had to resign due to the backlash. Hmmm, reverse sexism I believe.

Jim Coughlin  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 9:30 PM

You cannot leave Abu-Taleb out of a discussion about what's next for the Village board. He needs to immediately stop from directing under his breath comments towards board members who dare not follow the leader or seek a full and open discussion. Perhaps, those attending in Council Chambers do not always hear these ill-advised utterances but they come across loud and clear to anyone viewing the meetings on TV6. It's been an unfortunate and regular practice since Trustee Boutet joined the board. Use the bully pulpit as a leadership tool not to target individuals or intimidate any of our elected officials.

Corey Gimbel from Oak Park  

Posted: October 17th, 2019 3:16 PM

I don't want Dr. Buchanan to resign. I would like to see the letters she wrote to the Wednesday Journal and her colleagues. If those didn't convey abject apologies I think those are due to us all. I wish I could roll time back to just before she went ballistic. If it helps Dr. Buchanan and Mr. Haley I apologize for being a white man and a product of our society. I do the best I can under, often, adverse circumstances to be a mensch towards everyone. My tongue has the scars to prove that.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: October 15th, 2019 3:00 PM

The citizens of Oak Park feel disrespected by Ms Buchanan. Stop trying to make the bad actions of one player into some sort of monologue about how everyone is to blame around that bad player. She owns that moment. And there was nothing to celebrate about her outburst.

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