ometimes "Education Matters" has to address political matters because of the political nature of the public schools.
Here we are in and around Watsonville and neighboring towns, closing in on the home stretch of election season. Politicians want your vote. Some want your vote so desperately that they turn to trickery, innuendo, and sometimes, downright falsehoods in an attempt to be elected or re-elected.
Far too common is the playing of the "race card." This current election season we have been mired in a swamp of racial mudslinging. When you see this happening, you can gage how desperate the offending candidate has become. For it seems that the fear of losing prompts certain candidates to attack their opponent with accusations of either being a racist or trying to promote some racial agenda that would benefit some group to the detriment of others.
I am aware of accusations of racism being directed at candidates who in fact have spent their entire lives promoting acceptance of diversity and positive inter-racial relationships. The charge of racism is difficult to refute because everybody knows that even the racist will loudly deny being a racist.
Suggesting that a certain candidate has connections with some group bent on promoting a racist agenda can ruin a candidate's reputation. And few of us have an opportunity to really get to know the candidates' actual outlook on issues of race.
I would recommend being very wary of any claims of racism levied by opposing candidates and their supporters. Let's judge people by what they say themselves and how they conduct themselves, not by what political opponents say in desperation brought on by their own failing campaigns.
I'd like to share with you some comments on this topic made by community members whom I count as friends in our struggle to become a City of Character, which of course includes the ability to work together with people of all persuasions.
"I'm unsure if my mixed ethnic background makes me insightful or blind concerning racism, but I've seen its damaging effects on politics and other human activities. Doors of communication slam shut, lines are drawn, and all actions become suspect. We must carefully avoid crossing the line from diversity into division, for the resulting disunity will leave us vulnerable to all forms of tyranny." Steve Bankhead, local columnist
"Shouts of racism create division within our community and keep us from working together and progressing as a community. These are walls that need to be broken down. They are doing tremendous harm to efforts some of us are making to bring the people together in our community. We need leaders committed to working together to make our schools and our community better, not divide our people with sinister suggestions. Aurelio Gonzalez, Candidate for PVUSD School Board
"We all have our biases, but using racism for your self interest is inappropriate. Politicians should never bring up racism to get votes. It's a cheap shot and it reveals how devious some people can be, even people we used to have respect for. We have worked so hard as a chamber to include everyone. We need to deal with racism in a positive manor." Luis de la Cruz, Latino Chamber of Commerce
"What we see in the letters to the editor and opinions in the newspaper is people fighting racism with racism. It's not the person who cries "racism" the loudest, or whispers it the softest that is free from guilt. Those who use these kind of accusations for political advantage as so many are doing in Watsonville should be ashamed of themselves." Peter Nichols, PVUSD teacher
"It's wrong when innuendoes are made against anyone, especially for political purposes. When you're talking about the school board, we need to work together to find solutions." Ramon Gomez, City Council
"When desires and ideas collide, disagreements are inevitable, but escalating the racist rhetoric is counterproductive." Bernard Feldman
"Racism: hurtful, insidious, contagious, pervasive. How do we respond to racism in our community? How do we work together to overcome attitudes
with roots that go deep, with words and actions that betray fear at the
core? We need to respond with gentleness; never, ever accepting racism;
never responding in kind; never using another's fear or hatred to deepen the
wounds and division that already have been inflicted by racism." Ann Veronica Coyle, PVUSD teacher."
Working together, living together in harmony, helping each other, and always showing respect for each other as human beings of equal standing are all called for here. To move us forward in this effort, let's elect representatives to government posts who will not use racism and fear as political tactics. It's just not right. When it gets down to the us-and-them mentality, let's expand the "us" to include all of us.
Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and sits on the Governing Board of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Oct. 26, 2002. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.
© Sandra Nichols 2002