Politics, Policy & Opinion in DeKalb, Illinois, USA
There was so much not to like at Monday night’s meeting I let this slip past until now.
Comment by LGW on November 11, 2009 at 9:40 am
I have to speak up and say that as a mixed blood Cherokee, I didn’t take Sue Johnson’s comment to be racist or making light of the genocide against Native Americans at all. I have known Sue Johnson for a number of years and I have never known her to be discriminatory in any shape or form. All Sue was trying to imply was her long standing history to DeKalb. -Lisa Wilcox
Comment by Mac McIntyre on November 11, 2009 at 10:15 am
I echo LGW’s sentiment and I, too, have Native American heritage. Sue Johnson tells it like it is and backs up her words with action that has benefited this entire community.
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 10:18 am
We will have to agree to disagree, I guess.
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 10:19 am
p.s. I am mixed-blood Cherokee as well.
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 10:25 am
p.p.s. I am attacking the comment, not the person. I do not really know Sue very well but I will take your words for it that she is wonderful and did not intend offense. Yet, the remark was insensitive.
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 10:59 am
Oh, geez, I can’t seem to leave this alone, but I think it might be a good question: would the comment be OK with you if a discriminatory jerk with bad intentions said it? Are you really saying, “It’s OK because it was Sue who said it?”
Comment by wogenwatch on November 11, 2009 at 12:09 pm
The forceful removal of people from their land – whether it be carried out by white locals on their own or systematically by the U.S. military – all contributed to the decimation of the Native population that once existed here. I can’t believe that someone of Cherokee descent finds her comment acceptable when her comment echoes what the citizens of Georgia did to the Cherokee Nation in the 19th Century. Also, I doubt Ms. Johnson would have made a similar remark about her family history if this were the South and her ancestors had been slave owners. Why? It would be totally insensitive to make that kind of reference to the past.
Comment by Mac McIntyre on November 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm
Certainly some could be offended. Many are offended by my choice of words at times.
I wasn’t offended because Sue told it like it was. Her ancestors chased Indians from this area. As did my non-Native American ancestors from other areas. That is a matter of fact. An apology made by others many generations later matters little to those who were truly and rightfully offended.
Comment by wogenwatch on November 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm
When both official and unofficial racist policies and attitudes lead to forced removal and a totally unnecessary loss of human life, that policy and the attitudes that make it all possible, are genocidal. Just because numerous acts were carried out in a variety of places by different people under a ‘democratic’ government, and in the grand scheme what Ms. Johnson claims her family did might sound minor (to some – not me) in the scope of U.S. history, I doubt it was minor to the Native people who were forced to leave under the threat of violence.
I highly encourage people to read American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World by David E. Stannard (among various other books on this subject):
Comment by Anson MacDonald on November 11, 2009 at 12:58 pm
In hopes that there may be peace on the topic, I believe Sue suggested that her clansmen had all of the audience beat in terms of arrival to this area, but did not claim she and her family were part of the 12 Tribes of Israel or were directly traceable to Adam & Eve.
Her casual comments appeared to be addressed to those present in the council gallery.
It’s wonderful to hear from people whose roots run deep in this community and fascinating when they reflect upon political incompetence of the past.
Perhaps we can concentrate on the lessons to be learned from those episodes and leave the one-upmanship (and counter arguments) for another venue.
Sue’s ancestors could not have foreseen the parking problems of downtown DeKalb or that unsightly powerlines which would one day scar the landscape of Locust Street. Let’s cut them a break and not hold them responsible for their failures.
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 12:59 pm
She did more than state a fact. She laughed. Then others laughed with her.
Comment by Mac McIntyre on November 11, 2009 at 1:38 pm
Starved Rock is so named because it served as the final stand for a clan from one tribe who were massacred by another. Revenge, territorial rights, samo, samo were the catalyst. Such was an age old tradition held by all humans regardless of race.
The slave traders often dealt with African slave brokers in the days of chattel slavery. Always has there been those who profit at others expense. In all races.
To me part of the American celebration is that those who suffered from the basest of human weaknesses did not do so in vain because real progress was made in our history. Human progress was achieved when, for example, slavery ended and yes the sacrifice was great. Progress can be measured from Amistad to Barack Obama right here in America.
To me it is more insensitive to PC those events, however tragic in undue suffering they may have been.
The settlers of DeKalb County chased the Indians away, not with the threat of force, with force. They were rounded up at Ogee’s village near Paw Paw and marched to Beardstown where they gathered with other Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Odawa etc. tribes and marched to Missouri and Iowa in what those peoples refer to as the Trail of Death. That’s the truth. The more sensitive question to me is: what progress has been made by and with the descendants of those who paid those sacrifices?
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 2:37 pm
First of all let me clarify that I did not judge the comment based on my Cherokee heritage. I don’t have the right. I do not belong to the Cherokee community and have been treated white all my life. Heck, even my full-blooded Cherokee grandmother was treated white because she was light-skinned. So that part was just a “me too.”
It’s not about PC for me. It’s about respect. I’ve been told by people that comments like these are hurtful to them. So I don’t do it. Pretty simple.
Underlying the hurt, of course, is the fact that, for many people of color, this is SO NOT in the past. To understand it, you have first to believe that white privilege still functions very strongly in our society and that social justice has not been achieved. I believe these things and that’s why I act as I do.
A couple of you brought up slavery and genocide. Yes, that happens quite a lot in the human race. It starts when one group is encouraged to think of another group as less than human. And how does that start? When we start disregarding the feelings of others.
The de-humanizing process is going on right now, has been going on since 9/11, with the Muslim population in America. Many feel they are in danger. It’s getting ugly. And part of that is letting people get away with language they shouldn’t.
Comment by LGW on November 11, 2009 at 5:18 pm
I was brought up in the Cherokee ways.
I myself laughed not because of comment itself, it was the spirit of which Sue meant. To be honest I think took it the way I did because I know Sue, she’s a good person and would never intentionally slam a particular race. Now I will admit if someone else I didn’t know said it I think I can honestly say I would have taken it the way it was by some folks on here. I know that sounds hypocritical but I’m being truthful. The point is I know Sue and she’s not racist. Mac knows her well also.
I well versed in our nation’s history of public and policy of native americans, the forced removal from their homelands to barren desolate isolated lands that have now become reservations. As a result, we have deplorable conditions on the reservations today. Things are changing though. There are language immersion programs to keep the language alive, reconnection to the spiritual and cultural richness of the tribes, and connection to positive paths upon the red road vs one of alcoholism, drug addiction and despair. If you want your eyes opened, go to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and see for yourself. I would also invite you to check out http://www.cherokee.org and see what the Cherokee people have been up to. There is also the American Indian Center in Chicago. It is the nation’s oldest urban indian center and is featured at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. They have many social service programs to benefit Native Americans.
I’m coincidentally married to a direct descendant of Gen. Winfield S. Scott who forced my ancestors from their lands. Who would have known!
I think Mac summed it up best when he said “it is more insensitive to PC those events, however tragic in undue suffering they may have been.”
My question for you Mark, is would you have honestly taken that comment in this same context that you have raised hell about if Mac or Lynn, or Kerry had said it?
Comment by yinn on November 11, 2009 at 5:47 pm
I don’t think you’re hypocritical, I think you’re saying it does indeed depend on who’s saying it.
Comment by Chadwick on November 11, 2009 at 8:55 pm
The comment was tasteless, and shows the person who made it for what she is. To actually think one can crack jokes like that in a public forum that is concerned with public policy is juvenile at best-and demonstrates why Mrs. Johnson should not be on any civic committee.This is not a PC rant, nor is it a rant against using humour to spice up ones speech.
This was not the standard self deprecating humour, nor was it witty banter aimed at an opponent who could banter back.It was provincial and small minded one upmanship .The very fact she thought nothing of using it during the legislative process, and without fear of backlash demonstrates the arrogance which qualifies her for my opening statement.
Appointed committee members, like elected officials and public employees should have enough sense to represent themselves and the city better.Its not what should she said but the nature of it.It was vulgar, tasteless and disrespectul to the process.
Comment by Kerry Mellott on November 11, 2009 at 10:09 pm
I’ve made insensitive remarks like this. And I later apologized for them. We all make mistakes. It seems to me the best thing to do here is for Sue Johnson to appear before the next meeting of council and simply apologize for her remarks. I think people of good will would be quite willing to let it go.
Whether the committee that wants to squelch public comment generally consists of people of good will is an open question. I do not personally know Sue and am not fully aware of who is on that committee. It is clear to me that council should privately reprimand the committee and anyone involved in suppressing freedom of speech and direct them to reverse course. A public statement supporting free speech should come from council and the committee chair next meeting.
Comment by markcharvat on November 12, 2009 at 1:20 am
We have not Heard from Sue Johnson regarding her insensitive remarks against the Native American Community. Up until now she has been silent in this matter which would imply to me she does not see the fault of her words or she was mistaken in her statement. I agree with YINN, it’s about respect. Please carefully note that Sue Johnson stood up there and spoke as a representative of the Citizen’s Community Enhancement Commission
If Sue Johnson’s rhetoric represents the core philosophy of the DeKalb Citizen’s Community Enhancement Commission, then the commission needs to be disbanded immediately. If the commission, which operates with the Blessing of Mayor Povlsen, insists on using these tasteless words along with suppression of speech tactics to persuade the city council to waste more of our tax dollars of downtown aesthetics, then this town is deep trouble.
Susan Johnson needs to publicly apologize and resign from the committee.
Comment by yinn on November 12, 2009 at 6:53 am
I’ve heard back from Sue Johnson. She requested I not reprint her response and I am honoring that request, though in general I reserve the right to publish public person’s responses to questions of public business.
Kerry, your suggestions seem like a common-sense way to go. However, Ms. Johnson will not be apologizing for the remark, nor for her commission’s work to squelch public comment. And I’ve yet to hear any response to my communication to council protesting the direction of CCEC.
Perhaps they are still mulling it over.
Comment by yinn on November 12, 2009 at 7:07 am
Chadwick, I edited your comment a tad. If it is now unacceptable to you, let me know and I’ll nuke it.
But, I hope you’ll let it stand because you’ve brought up something very important. These commission members seem to think they can be part of city government while retaining all the privileges of fully private citizens. This is what the lack of disclosure is about — they believe they are exempt.
My view: This is a rogue commission.
Now that I’m thinking about them, it strikes me that I need to say something about how some committees/commissions are failing to turn in their meeting minutes to be received and filed. Awhile back, when they were still available online, I looked through old agenda packets and found that the Economic Development Commission hadn’t done so going back more than a year, maybe two iirc. And for some reason the Enviro Commission doesn’t turn theirs in regularly anymore, either.
Comment by yinn on November 12, 2009 at 7:44 am
More on the rogue commission idea: Why do commission members get to speak during citizens’ comments, anyway? Haven’t they already spoken through their work on the CCEC and the recommendations coming to Council? So they get more opportunities to express their ideas than we do, all the while trying to suppress our few outlets for public conversation. Nice.
Time for to be some boundaries to be set here, Mr. Mayor.
Comment by Gracie Mott on November 12, 2009 at 10:21 am
I have to seriously disagree with your last post Yinn. Does that mean that because Mac is on the Budget Advisory Committee that he shouldn’t be allowed to speak at a City Council Meeting? Different venues, different audience.
While I agree that the display of ‘connected folks who can afford to pay a higher tax bill’ saying almost the same thing, seemed to go on ad nauseum, and it would’ve been nice to hear from more ‘regular folk’ on the issue….
It was very obvious that RE/NEW was organized. We also know that it is much a easier job to get someone to talk FOR agreeing with Staff than it is to get people to speak AGAINST Staff. It was obviously an organized effort to keep status quo. That’s a much easier task than that of fighting status quo.
Preventing anyone from speaking isn’t the answer though, IMO. Getting MORE people to speak, is.
Comment by yinn on November 12, 2009 at 10:54 am
OK, your solution is better than mine. Let’s have more speakers — and better enforcement of disclosures.
Comment by Ivan Krpan on November 12, 2009 at 11:18 am
I do not think that Sue Johnson meant what she said to be derogatory in any way or to anyone. I’ve know Sue for some time and actually snickered a bit when the comment was made.
Sue’s family has a long history (I won’t demonstrate exactly how long) in this community and I thank her for her and her families continued involvement. Has for comments made about the bloggers of this community by members of the CCEC. I have to wonder how much more of a voice Sue’s father Stan would have had if he had the internet available to him.
My real and only problem is that when the council pulled the CCEC from the onmibus consent the other night, I thought there was going to be a discussion from council members about the CCEC’s request to squelch local bloggers. To my disappointment, the discussion really was only about some misc. clerical questions no discussion at all about a request of the CCEC to violate the rights of bloggers 1st Amendment right to the freedom of speech. To me, this is a much bigger issue than was Sue Johnson’s comment besides I’m glad now that I know who is willing to take responsibility for running our native American friends out of DeKalb County.
Comment by yinn on November 12, 2009 at 4:03 pm
As I said in the original post, Ivan, there were so many things not to like about Monday. The CCEC minutes are another one and we certainly should not let loose of that topic.
With so many comments about “the comment,” of course I’ve done a lot of thinking about it. I think we have determined that we are at least in part judging what people say by their intent. How do we do that if we don’t know the person? We can’t, so maybe the rule ought to be that you get more leeway among your friends than when you are speaking at a governmental meeting, which means you speak a bit differently at a public meeting than you do when you are with your friends.
As for “being PC,” whether you are for or against it depends IMO on whether you use it as a synomym for censorship or for a deliberate civility in discourse that you’d like to see more often.
Comment by Kay Shelton on November 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm
Gracie hit a home run here. Everyone has a right to speak at the City Council. It is best for full disclosure if they say if they say what their conflict of interest is but free speech by citizens unfortunately cannot be prescribed.
Everyone who participated in the rally should have spoken at the meeting. Only a small number of us did. More people need to speak up. Next time, there should be more of an effort for more people to speak up. If someone cannot be there, they could write something that someone else could read.
Comment by Kay Shelton on November 12, 2009 at 6:54 pm
On the other matter, free speech is great. Free speech lets me know who had cultural sensitivity education and who did not. Ms. Johnson had the right to say what she did. Hypothetically, some people (although I cannot imagine anyone north of the Mason-Dixon Line) might be proud their ancestors owned slaves. Such hypothetical people have the right to say they are proud their family has such deep roots some place that their ancestors owned slaves. That is what free speech is all about. There is no law that says it is illegal to look like an ignorant fool in public. Now, at the same time, people have the right to be offended. I was not surprised or shocked at what Ms. Johnson said because I am used to people’s lack of knowledge. She probably had no idea that some people would be offended. She probably had no idea that some might think what she said would be the same as someone being proud their family owned slaves. She probably has no idea that she should have apologized. That is fine, she has that right. I would never categorize those comments as racist but I would certainly lean towards ignorant.
Ignorant is not bad. Ignorant can be cured. Education is the cure for ignorance.
I strongly believe that more people need a lot more education on racial issues, especially in this town. To me, it is not a question about what is PC or what is not; it is about having a clue vs. staying clueless. It is about finding out about thinking from new perspectives.
In May, a group called One DeKalb hosted a summit on race. Local church groups then hosted an all-day workshop on Crossroads anti-racism training: http://www.crossroadsantiracism.org/. This city needs more of that. This city needs more education on not discriminating against people on economic reasons, too.
All people should be welcomed today, no matter their ethnic group, race, or socioeconomic group. The times of the past where one group cannot own property within city limits, must leave by sundown, or be chased out by another group are over. I know many hard working people in this community who have low paying jobs do not feel welcome in the community. I know many people of color who do not feel welcome in this community.
We can do better.
Comment by Kay Shelton on November 12, 2009 at 7:03 pm
If TIF money can be used for job training, then why not use some TIF money to bring out the Crossroads people out for some cultural sensitivity training? There are also folks available in the International Programs Training office at NIU who could probably do some training, too. They have some great people who take Muslims and Christians and people from other opposing groups who do not always get along, and work with them for mutual understanding.
This city could become a leader in bringing people together.
It would be good for business.
Comment by Mac McIntyre on November 13, 2009 at 2:00 pm
A bit of a curve in conversation of Aesop proportions — brought on by reading Kay’s “north of the Mason Dixon line” comment.
In 1819 Illinois Black Laws were adopted to clarify that blacks had no legal rights in this state. They couldn’t sue or be sued; they could testify against another slave or a free black but not against a white; they couldn’t own property or merchandise; they couldn’t become educated; no more than three could come together for dancing, unless accompanied by at least one white person; and on and on.
John Jones was born a free man in 1817, taught himself to read and write, started his own tailoring business. Jones dedicated a considerable amount of his time and earnings to the effort to overturn these measures.
Jones moved to Chicago in 1845 and used his house and his Dearborn Street office as stops on the Underground Railroad. He also actively campaigned against the racial discrimination contained in the Black Laws of Illinois.
Jones failed more often than succeeded in his efforts. When the state’s Constitutional Convention was held in 1847, Jones created the opportunity to attend to call for repeal of the draconian Illinois Black Laws. Instead, Illinois passed Article XIV of the 1848 Illinois Constitution, which prohibited blacks from immigrating to and settling in Illinois.
He then helped organize a national effort with Frederick Douglas as president (Jones was VP) to promote abolition and national rights for blacks. The Colored National Convention was not popular and that is an understatement. In 1850 Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, further preventing black emancipation. This act gave the federal government almost unlimited power to seize and return fugitive slaves (for a reward) and as a result a Reverse Underground Railroad quickly followed.
Jones efforts were not successful until 1865 when the Illinois Legislature finally repealed the Black Laws. Five years later, in 1870, after ratification of the 15th Amendment, Jones and other Illinois black men also voted for the first time. Jones was elected to the Cook County Commission in 1871 becoming the first African American officeholder in the state’s history.
It takes time, effort and diligence to make change.
Comment by yinn on November 13, 2009 at 4:26 pm
Taking Kay’s statement: “She probably has no idea that she should have apologized” back to good intent vs. bad intent. If I say something and become aware that offense was given, I will apologize for not having been able to express myself without giving offense (unless I meant the offense or don’t care about the other person’s feelings). I apologize to make clear my good intent. The apology isn’t just about something derogatory being said. It’s about conciliating one’s neighbor with good manners.
Comment by Kay Shelton on November 13, 2009 at 5:21 pm
This would have worked for me:
I did not mean to offend anyone. I am sorry about the misunderstanding.
That is an apology without having taking any blame. Instead, there was no apology.
I sent messages to those involved with the Crossroads training. If I do not hear back, I will write something more public.
Ignorance can be cured with education.
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