Equity gets real, fast

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By Dan Haley

Editor and Publisher

It was a quiet night in Oak Park on Monday. Not much doing unless you were at village hall or the high school where the hard work of equity got down to cases. 

By a 4-2 vote, the school board approved spending $54,000 in taxpayer funds to reprint the entire run of this year's Tabula yearbook. That will allow the expungement of 18 photos which include approximately 50 students using the upside-down OK hand sign that in very recent times has, by all evidence, been appropriated by white supremacists.

Across town, Oak Park's recently reconfigured village board spent a heated portion of its second meeting once again debating what, in shorthand, has been described as Oak Park's diversity statement. Dating to the early 1970s, the statement was a bold proclamation of values of open housing, racial integration and welcome. It has been, more or less, routinely readopted by each village board that followed. Along the way it has been updated a few times to incorporate added classes of citizens — gays, those with physical disabilities — who now fall within the document's protections and welcome.

So we have two normal spring things — the distribution of what is always an award-winning OPRF yearbook and the reaffirmation of Oak Park's diversity statement — now churned up on the rocky shores of racial equity.

The high school resolved its issue on a split vote with all members testifying to the importance of equity but the two dissenting board members allowing for the likely innocence of the hand gestures way back last fall when the now-suspect pictures were shot. The first edition of the yearbook, heavily guarded from wide public view, will be shredded. And fresh copies with less candid pictures of various teams and clubs will be reprinted and distributed a little late.

I'm with the majority on this one, though $54,000 isn't chump change. OPRF has proudly made itself a champion of diversity and equity. Publishing a yearbook with 18 images of what has become a symbol of white supremacy is beyond a teachable moment and is just not acceptable.

Meanwhile at village hall a bollix that is part process story and part substantive difference of opinion among village trustees played out in heated exchanges. The process portion is that the existing diversity statement was approved two weeks back in a 5-2 vote of the new board. Then there is Revised Version #1 crafted, to me, quietly by the Community Relations Commission in recent months. It was tabled and sent back to the commission two weeks ago by the board for wider community input and more editing. That resulted in a quick public meeting — more voices, mostly white voices — and Revised Version #2 which went to the village board Monday. Then, more or less out of the blue, came Revised Version #3, which was spooled out by Trustees Dan Moroney, Deno Andrews and Simone Boutet. 

To wrap up the process story, the board voted unanimously Monday to table both revised versions until a date uncertain. That certainly was the right choice, assuming a plan is made to sort out what appear now to be specific and notable differences in the two statements on the table.

Look at the CRC version and the Moroney/Andrews/Boutet version and they are mostly word-for-word matches. That's good. And good for the three trustees for adding criminal history to the list of protected statuses. What's missing though from the three trustees' take is substantive and goes to the heart of racial equity. It is acceptance that, over our shared history, the institutions of government created by a white power structure baked in systemic racism, which is part and parcel of American society. 

Not unique to Oak Park, and certainly Oak Park has been more proactive than most towns in figuring this out. But the path forward — and that path goes through discomforting white people — is to accept that reality. The words used by the CRC were "We work to break down systems of oppression and achieve a society where race no longer determines one's outcomes and where everyone has what they need to thrive."

It is an elemental acknowledgement from which much good can come.

It is hard for a lot of white people to read those words because we internalize them as being called racists. Not the point. Step back. Acknowledge that the society we've built was built by white people and mostly for the benefit of white people. 

Going forward we have to do better. Putting it into words, words that are part of an aspirational proclamation of our values is, for Oak Park, that necessary starting point.

Email: dhaley@wjinc.com Twitter: @OPEditor

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Joe Langley  

Posted: May 23rd, 2019 10:19 AM

There was nothing aspirational about the discussion, neither is substance or tone. This statement has been a point of pride now it is being used as a weapon. Village Board should take their time and get this right. If they need to yell at each other, call each other names and belittle each other's life experiences, then I would prefer it take place in a closed session. While it makes good TV this does nothing for governing.

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