To the editor of THE EAGLE:
The Feb. 2 hate crime on Lucille Street in Pittsfield reflects a climate of racism, just as recent bad weather reflects climate change. As the percent of the population in Pittsfield who are persons of color rises toward 15 percent the chances of overt hate crime will also rise because the city has allowed a climate of racism to fester beneath the radar of many white folks.
Although we have a truly excellent man of color leading our police department, public and private employment and leadership are largely a no-man’s land for people of color. How do we expect children to respect persons of color if they see no black teachers in school or on the school board? How do we expect young people of color to grow up hopeful of meaningful employment and opportunity in a city where they see almost no persons of color being successful in public leadership, and recognize daily that business and civic life is not lead or designed by or for people of color?
If children of color see no avenues of hope, they are unlikely to be successful in the mainstream community. Unfortunately, those who are excluded will find other avenues of life that society brands as bad, leading to a school to prison pipeline that does not need to exist if we address racism.
Every child in Pittsfield should be able to look up to teachers, administrators, political leaders, business leaders and professionals of color. It is not hard to imagine this, since we have highly educated men and women of color living here and others who would like to live and work here. This is the best way to reduce hate crime, foster civic responsibility, strong community and the sort of city to which business leaders will want to relocate.
Not a problem, you say? How many people of color are on governing boards of our leading businesses and non-profits, city boards, policy positions in the city, county and schools? Why is it that in 2014, Pittsfield has no duly adopted affirmative action plan, even though it contracts with the U.S. government? Why is it that the city does not even keep track of race in its employment practices?
Those of us who are white have an advantage in every aspect of contemporary life that we do not recognize. We are perceived by other whites as "like me." People of color are perceived as "other." We value experience like our own, rather than experience that is different.
This means that when a white and a person of color apply for the same job, the employers are more comfortable with the white and perceive the white to be better qualified, even when the objective criteria are identical between the two candidates. This is "white privilege," and it lies at the heart of our racism.
When mainstream leaders can treat people of color as the other with impunity, it is predictable that more violent elements will believe that their acts of hate are tolerated or even encouraged. The time in well past for Pittsfield to wake up and end racism. The city needs an affirmative action plan and serious efforts to reverse years of discrimination. Let’s hear from our leaders how they are going to address this!
And I strongly encourage all people of good will to unite with the Berkshire NAACP in pressing for climate change in Pittsfield now.
REV. RALPH W. HOWE
The writer is pastor, First United Methodist Church.