January 6th, 2021 will be a day read about in the history books.
What we can all agree on, without the slightest doubt, is that the nation is gravely wounded and we’re all feeling deeply hurt. We’re all in great pain, but it would be untrue to say all of us are in pain for the same reasons.
From the September 18th issue of the Adirondack Enterprise, regarding a recent proposal to change the name of Swastika, NY:
“I’m dead-set against changing it,” [Councilman Howard] Aubin said Monday. Aubin said the word swastika means “well-being.” Swastika does mean “well-being” in Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language. Aubin said “only an intolerant person” would assume the name is connected to the German Nazi Party and its leader, Adolf Hitler, whose aggression prompted World War II.
Some folks in Tupper Lake weren’t pleased with our publication of a photo showing a Confederate flag in a window there. They viewed it as a provocation intended to stir divisions.
Others apparently hoped the image in our September/October magazine would inspire their Town Board to adopt a resolution that renounced “symbols of racism and hate” that are “not beneficial to the community’s image.” That resolution failed for lack of a second last week.
I confess that the sight of a Confederate flag in New York — in Tupper Lake or any of the other places I’ve seen them in and around the Adirondacks — puzzles and saddens me. I’m sure that this reflex contributed to my decision to include the image in a story about how welcoming (or not) our region is to people who would come here to live or to visit this state’s enviable public wildlands.
For a century and a half, white men “blacking up” and performing as blackface minstrels drew eager audiences to Adirondack halls and stages. Writer and independent scholar Amy Godine tracks the long uneasy history of this unabashedly racialized performance style from its antebellum introduction as a big-city circus act to its later revival as a locally-produced nostalgia act in Adirondack towns and cities.
Even into the 1960s, and long after blackface was widely recognized as racist, hometown blackface flourished on Adirondack stages. (Iterations still crop up in North Country college campuses.)
In a presentation coming up Thursday, Aug. 20 at 6 p.m., Godine explores the tenacious roots, representations and consequences of this toxic tradition in Adirondack life.
I begin this commentary stating three facts: Black lives matter; systemic racism is real and deeply woven into every fabric of this country; and it is not safe for Black, African American and persons of color to navigate daily life in the Adirondacks and North Country. Whether it’s the very real possibility of being murdered at the hands of the police, or experiencing daily microaggressions and unconscious biases, life for non-white peoples is often precarious.
Since the death of George Floyd, and subsequent protests condemning and denouncing police brutality, I have sat with my thoughts, searching for something to put in words, carefully considering whether my voice is necessary or if it’s taking up space.
Over the weekend, I watched Saranac Lake High School valedictorian Francine Newman stand in front of her peers, parents and teachers to deliver a thoughtful, forceful and deeply personal speech highlighting the racism she experienced growing up as an Asian American in Saranac Lake.
On Monday, June 29 from 6-7pm, Nicky Hylton-Patterson, Director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative, along with a panel of black activist scholars from across the region will be holding an online discussion about racism and being black in America.
The seminar is titled: “Antiracism 101: From antiracist actor to ally to accomplice, how do we get there?” The web event is the second in a series dedicated to activating, mobilizing, and engaging the Adirondack community on issues presented by racism and inequality. The session will be 25 minutes long followed by a 30 minutes Q&A with expert panelists via chat.
Antiracism 101 is part of the ADI’s Antiracism Education and Mobilization campaign and each session will give its viewers the tools, language, techniques and strategies to identify and understand, as well as build more racially just and equitable communities within the North Country.
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