Below is a letter I wrote to the Park District in a nearby Village after seeing a racist act by a Village employee on Sunday, and the response from the Village. I was compelled to write the letter, and I’m satisfied with the response, but I’m surprised and a little annoyed by my biggest concern waiting out the 24 hours between the two: I was going to have to boycott this beach if the response wasn’t unequivocal in its condemnation of the incident or if it was ambivalent in its action plan, and that would have been a sacrifice. In other words, and I say this both seriously and in jest: I want to save the world, but do I have to be inconvenienced? (Jest in the sense that if you ask me to verbally express my values, I would of course value action over complacency and concern about losing beach privilages is clearly shallow, but serious in the sense that, along with millions of Americans I see images of heinous things happening around the world in the media every day…from the comfort of my living room, at a loss of what action I could take to make change).
I’ve written before about being more attuned to unconscious bias, working to be an anti-racist parent and to teach my child to be anti-racist. Apparently, especially related to setting an example for my child, that means that my actions and words need to match. Go figure…something related to integrity. Well, somehow my subconscious has registered this and is taking over, and it’s kind of making me mad. All of a sudden I know clear as day I have to write the letter and I have to boycott the beach if it’s not addressed properly and I can’t stop ‘til it’s done.
Something’s changing, and a process has started that I can no longer stop. I’m excited, but scared, as I apparently grow into the next stage of anti-racism after talking and research: the reluctant activist.
Here’s the original letter and response. My previous days in media made me remove the name of the village–I thought they addressed the issue…
The … Park District policy on harassment is as follows:
“Each and every employee, officer, official, director, agent, volunteer and vendor of the … Park District, as well as every person using property, shall refrain from harassing any other person because of his or her race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sex, marital status, handicap, citizenship status, military status, unfavorable discharge or record of arrest. Any such harassment is illegal, unacceptable, and will not be tolerated by the District”.
This policy is included in both our full-time and part-time policy manuals that are issued to all employees and they sign off on receipt and review.
I can assure that we will be reviewing this policy with staff at tomorrow’s in-service training. We will provide examples of what is inappropriate so all staff understand. Mr. … will speak with staff that worked on Sunday so that know what qualifies as acceptable and unacceptable beach gear etc… We will also cover this with all staff. We issue guard suits, t-shirts, sweatshirts. They will be told that if they wish to bring other gear, it needs to be appropriate for all.
I am sorry for this and hope that you are able to enjoy your time with us this summer. If you have any other questions or comments, please let me know.
First, please let me compliment you on your outstanding care and stewardship of the … Beach. We are season pass holders, and are delighted at how clean and accessible the beach is.
That said, I did want to write and understand your policy and planned response to something we saw while at the beach yesterday (Sunday, July 6). One of the lifeguards was using a beach towel that was the image of the confederate flag, a known symbol of racism. According to the National Council on Community and Justice, “Some people assert that the Confederate flag is a symbol of their heritage, however, for many people of color and religious minorities across the United States and other communities around the world, the Confederate flag represents hatred, bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism. This symbol is a very powerful nonverbal communication tool that, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), generates deep meaning, intent, and significance in a compact, immediately recognizable form.”
At first I thought that perhaps the young man (I do not know his name, he was one of two young, tall, thin, Caucasian, blonde-haired guards that day, working at least while we were there, from 10:30 to 2:30, at the center lifeguard stand) somehow did not know the powerful, bigoted message conveyed by the image of the confederate flag, and thought perhaps to explain it to him. But then a young woman of color walked by, and he swiftly picked up the towel and draped it, image side hidden, on the lifeguard stand. To me this clearly indicated he knew what message he was conveying.
While unfortunately bigotry and hate falls among our First Amendment protected speech, I have to hope that the Village of … has a policy against discrimination while working for the Village or even perhaps while engaging in activities on Village property. This young man was an employee of the Village of …, was in his Village/Lifeguard uniform, and was blatantly parading and image of hate for all to see.
Please 1.) Let me know what your policy is and 2.) Let me know how you will address this occurrence so that, assuming it does defy your policy, it doesn’t happen again.
I look forward to your quick response, and hope that you are equally shocked and saddened that this would happen.