ARLENE VIOLET – Racism is not always blatant

ARLENE VIOLET – Racism is not always blatant

I, for one, am glad to see that the governor is removing “Providence Plantations” from state stationery, paychecks, etc. Yes, I am aware that its initial history had nothing to do with slavery, but the reality is that meanings change, particularly when they become intertwined with subsequent reality. In far too short a time this state became steeped in slavery from trade to farms, so the meaning carries connotations of a dark history for this country and the state. This is not a case where a recent letter to the editor (Providence Journal 6/24/20) wrote “If we do away with everything that anyone finds offensive, there will be nothing left.” A reminder of the murder, rape of black women, subjugation of human beings, beatings, etc., is hardly a slight.

Ancestry.com seems to confirm that I am 97 percent Irish. I’m not crazy about being called a “mick” but wouldn’t deck somebody. I would take more offense if a statue was erected of a prominent “know-nothing” adherent like 13th President Millard Fillmore, on Broad Street in Providence where a mob tried to attack the Sisters of Mercy who resided there. They had incurred their wrath because the nuns were teaching the Irish children of the “human chimpanzees” (Charles Kingsley).

To suggest that the removal of Confederate generals’ statues and Confederacy flags is to desecrate history is either incredibly naive or racist. They belong in museums or textbooks about the Civil War. To enshrine them in the center of a city clearly messages a white supremacy message. The South lost. In a real world we shouldn’t lionize people who lost their crusade of hate. Most Americans cheered when the Saddam Hussein statue was toppled in Iraq but see no correlation to enshrining bigots in this country. While I am at it let me aggravate some of you even more by suggesting that women are missing from the “statue” department. War is glorified even when the men lost the battle but Harriet Tubman can’t get on American currency.

Racism not only pervades who gets honored by whom but also shows itself insidiously in 2020. When $34 million was paid for the Convention Center “field hospital retrofit’ not one penny went to any minority businesses. Isn’t this “overlook” prejudice? The governor “excused’ the lack of minority work by saying it was an “emergency,” yet, even assuming arguendo it was, why weren’t any black contractors on her Rolodex?

Now there is a vacancy on the Rhode Island Supreme Court and it seems that a white legislator has the job all sewed up with the governor’s appointees on the Ethics Board voting to allow the candidacy despite the staff recommendation that it violated the revolving door rule. It’s easy to pontificate about justice in changing stationery since taxpayers foot that bill but to barter away the appointment of a political ally is something else. There is a surfeit of competent black lawyers who could fill that spot so the court reflects the society over which it rules, but the failure of appointing a minority black or Hispanic crystallizes again that a power post won’t be theirs. It would be important if the governor and judicial screening committee exhibit real commitment to equality. Let’s see.

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general.

Comments

So, Arlene, tell me, what part of this Island we live on is Woonsocket? I don't live on an island.

"Plantations" isn't the only 17th-century word that's changed meaning over time, as we see from the King James Bible and Shakespeare.

I get John Ward's point but maybe the legislature could find a compromise on the official name. How about "Rhode Island and Providence Farms" or "Rhode Island and Providence Cul-de-Sac Subdivisions"?

Rhode Island is the name known to all. Excellent article Arlene. You could have gone on and on about the horrors of slavery in Rhode Island and how the top 10 slave traders in America were from Rhode Island. We should definitely be teaching a more complete History of the United States and Rhode Island to face & accept our history. Your letter is a great start