John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Discrimination Category

A Deeper Understanding of the "Redsk*ns" Conversation

This is a guest blog post contributed by Arla Patch who I met at a recent weeklong series of hearings held by the PA Human Rights Commission at Bucks County Community College in Newtown Township (see here). Ms. Patch was the Community Engagement Coordinator for the Maine Wabanaki State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission when she lived in Maine. She now lives in Quakertown.

Why do some communities hang on with all their might to the term “Redsk*ns,” which is considered a racist slur by many, while other communities hear the Native American voices that ask them to release it? In particular, why do the largely Euro-American members of the Nashaminy school board, teachers and parents say they use the racial slur “R word” to HONOR Native Americans and yet attack, berate and highly disrespect the very Native People who are asking them to stop using it? Even when Native American members of the same community insist that it DOES NOT honor them?

I think loss has something to do with it.

When I lived in Maine I remember a group of Wabanaki tribal members traveled to Sanford, Maine in 2012 to ask the Sanford High School community to please stop using the term “Redsk*ns” for their sports team. The tribal members shared the impact on their lives of being reduced to a mascot and how that made them feel.  From what I understand, nearly everyone “got it” and they voted to change the name.  But the retired football coach spoke in favor of keeping the Redsk*ns name. Apparently he said with fiery passion: “I was born and REDSKIN, I’m going to die a REDSKIN!”

That level of identity struck me as significant. When I read Sebastian Junger’s book Tribe, I realized that especially for Euro-Americans there is a very deep genetic component to embracing Native American identity.  Each one of us non-natives left our ancestral territory at some point for the “New Land.”  We broke our multigenerational connection to the land of our ancestors and took up residence in someone else’s homeland. We all carry the genetic memory of tribal cohesion, where each person’s survival depends on the rest of the tribe working together, supporting each other, and living with an awareness of the group as a whole. This is the powerful cohesion that Junger also contends occurs in the military when a group of people are life-threatened regularly and depend on each other for survival. He contends we are designed for that cohesion.

For me personally, being of very mixed European ancestry, I have also craved a cultural identity. My first marriage had the very attractive aspect of being married to a full blooded Swede and getting a very ethic Swedish last name. I learned to cook Swedish food and celebrate Swedish holidays.

There can be a longing for an identifying culture when yours has been obscured by generations of mixing and diluting.  And when you can attach bravery, strength, and fierceness to an identity such as the projection on the Native American warrior stereotype, it's a powerful mix.  If you have no real education on the context, the history of what Indigenous Peoples have suffered since we first arrived on their land, you can aggressively embrace that mascot identity as your own.  Further you will be blind to the cartooning, mimicking and misuse of imagery, gestures and regalia, so great is your need for that identity.

This powerful appropriation connects IDENTITY WITH PRIDE. This PRIDE is so emotionally based, and the need and identity becomes so strong, that it outweighs what the members of the tribal communities tell you. To take that identity away, for some people, is a loss too great to bear.

Another force the drives the voracity of clinging to Native American identities I believe is an underlying and unspoken guilt. Most of us know on some level, that this land and all its resources that we possess came at the cost of nearly wiping out the Indigenous Peoples who were already here. Horrific things were done. The depth of grief to accept what our forbearers might have done can feel overwhelming.

But to me, part of the healing is to acknowledge. I heard it said: “If we own up to our past we won’t be condemned by it.  We are more than the worst things we’ve done.” It is a history that we’ve inherited. The choice now is what are we going to do with that inheritance moving forward?

Further Reading

Posted on 05 Feb 2019, 01:45 - Category: Discrimination

Newtown Township Appoints Members of the Newly Created Human Relations Commission

At last night’s Reorganization meeting, the Newtown Township Board of Supervisors (BOS Definition) appointed 5 people to the newly created Human Relations Commission (HRC), which was established by the Anti-Discrimination Ordinance passed by the BOS on November 28, 2018 (read “Newtown Township BOS 2018 Accomplishments”).

The ordinance, a copy of which you can download here, safeguards the right of citizens to obtain and hold employment and public accommodation and to secure housing accommodation and commercial property "without regard to actual or perceived race, color, gender, religion, ancestry, genetic information, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, familial status, marital status, age, mental or physical disability, use of guide or support animals and/or mechanical aids, and to have equal access to postsecondary educational institutions."

The Commission will handle complaints through a fact-finding conference with the parties of the dispute in order to reach a resolution without the need to hire lawyers or go to court.

First Meeting of the Newtown Township Human Relations Commission

On Weds, Mar 20, 2019, the Commissions elected a Chairperson (Amber Ray) and Secretary (Angelic Acevedo), plus two non-voting members: Samantha Gross Dorf and  John Gyllenhammer.
Standing, left to right, is Aamir Nayeem, Samantha Gross Dorf (non-voting member), Mercy Ingraham, and Amber Ray. Sitting, left to right: Joe O’Neill and Angelic Acevedo.

Voting Members of the Commission

Angelic Acevedo: A physician by training and originally from Puerto Rico, Angelic is a member of the Newtown Elementary Diversity Committee and has volunteered with her church in Plainsboro, NJ and other non-profits. She also leads the Princeton Pike chapter of the Organization for Latino Achievement, an employee resource group that her employer, BMS, sponsors. As part of this group, Angelic facilitates employee development activities for Hispanic minorities as well as liaises with other resource groups to champion events that help reinforce an environment of inclusion.

Mercy Ingraham: “Fair treatment under the law is a life-long interest of mine. I have worked with the poor and the disadvantaged all of my professional career.” Mercy's volunteer activities have included being a team leader in an inter-faith coalition to assist local refugee resettlement since 2016.

Aamir Nayeem: “Being the son of Muslim immigrant parents, I'm unfortunately aware of the discrimination that ethnic and religious groups face regularly. Although I haven't personally faced much harassment or discrimination living and going to school in Newtown, I'd like to be a part of the solution and make sure that others don't have to deal with it either.” While a student at the University of Pittsburgh, Aamir was a member of the Muslim Students Association's executive board, which hosted events and discussions helping educate others about Islam and helping students deal with the rise of Islamophobia.

Joe O'Neill: “Over the course of my career, I have served in many volunteer capacities, and perhaps pertinent to this commission, I have experience with diversity and inclusion policies within companies both for-profit and non-profit."

Amber Ray: Amber recently moved to Newtown from Bristol Borough, where she was on the human relations commission for two years. Amber thus has critical experience in the activities of such Commissions.

Non-Voting Members of the Commission

Non-voting members of the Commission are ex officio members whose background and expertise broaden the diversity that serves on the Commission.

Samantha Gross Dorf: Currently working as the Executive Assistant to the Provost of the Bucks County Community College, Samantha is co-chair of the Race, Ethnicity, Diversity, and Inclusion Advisory Group to the President and lead of the student food insecurity group. These two additional roles at the college allow Samantha to serve the coliege in the areas of equity, diversity and inclusion.

John R. Gyllenhammer: John is Deputy General Counsel and Chief Counsel for Health Sciences at Drexel University in Philadelphia. During his 25 years in legal positions at Drexel University and George Mason University, John has had extensive involvement with anti-discrimination laws and regulations applicable to employees, students, patients and members of the general public.

Thank you Mercy, Aamir, Joe, Angelic, Amber, Samantha, and John for volunteering!

Posted on 08 Jan 2019, 01:55 - Category: Discrimination

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