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Henrietta’s Town Supervisor Should Do More Than Apologize

Op/Ed By George Payne


Founder and Director Gandhi Earth Keepers International

George Payne, Founder and Director
Gandhi Earth Keepers International

Home to the Locust Hill Country Club, Paychex, and the Rochester Institute of Technology, the town of Henrietta (according to the American Community Survey conducted between 2005 to 2009), is 81.5 percent white, and 7.9 percent African-American.

But, not surprisingly, the town supervisor, all four town board members, and the ethics board are all white.

Less surprising (albeit no less unfortunate), is the recent official statement by the Henrietta Town Ethics Board, which basically exonerated town supervisor Jack Moore for calling black residents of Rochester and Henrietta “city cousins.”

In their words: “Our board is not vested with the authority to hear complaints or address complaints. We render advisory opinions, generally relating to questions of conflict of interest.” How convenient.

I thought for sure that public pressure would be substantial enough to force Mr. Moore’s resignation. Clearly, this has not happened. It appears Mr. Moore will not only survive politically, but that he will move forward without any genuine effort to reform his own poisoned worldview.

What is worse, in all of the articles, blogs, news reports, and public comments I have come across that have been related to Moore’s slurring of black people, in not one have I seen a writer or reporter explain why the term “city cousins” is so blatantly racist. It is as if we all are under the same spell of an unspoken assumption. The assumption that well-intentioned white people know why the term is offensive, and mean-spirited bigoted people don’t know how offensive it can be.

Both assumptions may be false.

When Moore referred to black people as “city cousins,” he may have been suggesting they are a different branch of the hominid tree. Paleoanthropologists tell us that hominids include a variety of primates, such as orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos. Essentially, Moore could have been calling an entire race of American citizens inferior, not as fellow human beings, but as a different tribe of animal all together.

Historically speaking, this is what the pejorative use of the term “cousins” has referred to when it has been used by Europeans to demean people of African descent. It goes back a long way.

The reason his words were so hurtful may not have been because it was an old-fashioned slip of the tongue, or a silly goof we all let out from time to time. The term “city cousins” could reveal the uncivilized belief system of a town supervisor with control over nearly every aspect of community life, from zoning permits to education.

I wonder how many African American residents of Henrietta have felt adequately represented on the town zoning board, school board, or chamber of commerce. And, how many African Americans have actually worked in Moore’s administration?

What the African American community in Rochester and Henrietta probably want more than an apology, or mandatory sensitivity training, is for Moore to not only acknowledge the equal worth of black people, but to celebrate the way their achievements in science, the arts, and athletics have influenced the places where he works and lives.

Has Moore forgotten that one of the most accomplished residents to come out of Henrietta is Shenise Johnson? Johnson is a former John Wooden finalist, member of the 2009 basketball women’s U19 world championship, member of the WNBA’s Indiana Fever, and global role model to millions of young women all over the world.

Instead of a pathetic apology, followed up by zero political reform, let’s have a campaign to oust Moore, and honor the contributions of African Americans in Western, NY.