Readers Write: Opinion piece promotes racist thought

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“They say that every bad thing results in a good thing.” I read this in Joan Swirsky’s fallacious and offensive opinion piece (“Dems responsible for plight of blacks in U.S.”) in last week’s paper. Good writers know to stray far from cliche, so it’s fitting she begins with one.
I have many questions for Ms. Swirsky—a white woman, as far as I can tell—not the least of which is what exactly does she know about the “plight of blacks” in America? How could she possibly? And how dare she act like she does. She writes from a place of assumed authority on a subject she certainly knows nothing about. This mentality is maligned and perpetuates racist thought. I’m not going to write any more about the “plight” of Black Americans—as if they were a monolith with one singular experience—because I, too, am a white person and because reasonable people don’t claim to know things they can never experience. I should have stopped reading Ms. Swirsky’s piece at the headline.
The notion of the “welfare queen” that Ms. Swirsky’s unconvincing argument employs is a long-debunked canard of neoliberal politics—a flawed ideology based on rugged individualism embraced by both Democrats and Republicans in the latter half of the 20th century. Don’t believe it. In fact, she published a longer version of her article on the same day in the publication Canada Free Press, which is classified as a “questionable” news source by the organization Media Bias/Fact Check based on “extreme right wing bias, promotion of conspiracies and numerous false claims.”
And the dismissal and misclassification of the Black Lives Matter movement as “criminal” and “Marxist-inspired radicals” invalidates a completely legitimate fight for equality. The conflation of the Black Lives Matter movement with the small proportion of violent agitators, some of whom might qualify as “antifa,” is disrespectful and obtuse. If you’ve never visited the Black Lives Matter website, I suggest you do and read their “About” and “What We Believe” sections. The Black Lives Matter movement is committed to “imagining and creating a world free of anti-Blackness, where every Black person has the social, economic, and political power to thrive.” How radical.
Frankly, I’m shocked to read such a baseless and underreported piece from an “award-winning journalist” who contributed to the New York Times for over 20 years. Surely, one would hope someone with journalistic chops like Ms. Swirsky’s would understand how important research and facts are in submitting to publish in a newspaper, even if it’s an opinion piece.
Wasn’t it just several weeks ago that the New York Times experienced backlash over an op-ed it published written by the Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton? The senator was demanding that the federal government suppress protesters with force. He, too, made claims and assertions that were unproven or misleading. The paper regretted publishing the piece and stated in an Editor’s Note that “the essay fell short of [their] standards and should not have been published.” The editor responsible for the opinion section resigned.
I have to wonder what the standards are for publishing in this very newspaper. Who allowed this piece of “journalism” to be published? And if anyone can simply submit a letter to the editor and have it published no matter how distorted or how dangerous it is, then I question the integrity of this publication. That is irresponsible. That is bad journalism. This community has no place for such hateful and unfounded rhetoric masquerading as political opinion. One would hope this paper strives for that as well.
Words matter and have direct consequences; ideologies yield actions. While I wouldn’t say that Ms. Swirsky’s piece advocates so explicitly for violence, I would argue that she and Senator Cotton operate under similar insidious, racist ideologies and the delusions of white supremacy. These opinions, validated by publication, only stoke discord and further erode our already vulnerable democracy.
While Ms. Swirsky relishes in accusing Democrats of racism, the unfortunate truth is that she’s correct: Democrats have been and continue to be racist. The same is true of Republicans and Independents. The mires of racism go far deeper than party lines. It should have always been the case, but now more than ever, it’s our obligation as white people to educate ourselves about race and interrogate our white privilege—the way in which whiteness makes our lives easier in this country, whether we realize it. We must uplift Black voices and stand in solidarity with them.
If the words “Black lives matter” make you uncomfortable, you need to ask yourself why that is. If you don’t consume any Black art or support Black-owned businesses in your daily life, you need to ask yourself why that is. If you’re more outraged about property destruction and vandalism than about police murdering Black people, you need to ask yourself why that is. It’s by asking ourselves questions like these that we begin to dismantle systems of oppression and move forward towards true equality.
Right now in this country, we are on the precipice of major, systemic change—perhaps, like never before. It seems more and more (white) people are waking up to the inequities that this country was founded upon—inequities that have existed for far too long in the very systems we interact with and perpetuate every day. There are protests all over the country, protests all over Long Island, even protests in Great Neck.
The climate in this country is changing. People of all races and identities are joining the movement that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have been organizing for as long as this nation has existed. Some of us can see, actually see, a future in which this country lives up to its overdue expectations: a robust and just democracy where every life truly matters and is granted the same protections, rights, and opportunities. And it’s people who think like Joan Swirsky who always—then and now—stand in the way of progress and on the wrong side of history.

These are some resources I have found helpful for educating myself about race, systems of oppression, and white privilege.
– 13th, a documentary about race, justice, and mass incarceration in the U.S. Directed by Ava DuVernay (2016). Available on Netflix.
– The New Jim Crow, a book that explores the justice system and the prison industrial complex written by Michelle Alexander (2010).
– Strong Island, a documentary that investigates race and justice on Long Island by focusing on a 1992 murder case in Central Islip. Directed by Yance Ford (2017). Available on Netflix.
– The 1619 Project, an ongoing initiative looking at the origins and effects of slavery in this country that began with the first ship of enslaved Africans 401 years ago (2019). The New York Times Magazine.
– The writings and teachings of Ibram X. Kendi, Sonya Renee Taylor, Bryan Stevenson, Angela Davis, Roxane Gay, Ijeomo Oluo, James Baldwin, Claudia Rankine, among many, many others.

Conor O’Byrne
Great Neck

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