Miller’s words are deeply hurtful
By The Rev. MARCIA DINKINS
Special to The Vindicator
The Mahoning Valley has a long and troubling history of racism, racial segregation, distressing racial disparities and racial violence.
Like every other industrial center in Ohio, this region has a terrible story to tell of how immigrants and people of color, but particularly African-Americans, were discriminated against in jobs, education, housing, health care and even in death – through segregated cemeteries.
Yet last week, Kathy Miller, chairwoman of the Donald Trump campaign in Mahoning County, was quoted as saying that “racism didn’t exist until Obama” and that “if you’re black and you haven’t been successful in the last 50 years, it’s your own fault. You’ve had every opportunity; it was given to you.”
How can a person who works in real estate (presumably helping families find homes) and who served in public office (as a trustee of Boardman Township) not know the Valley’s history of “redlining” to keep African-Americans out of white neighborhoods and the suburbs? The pattern of job discrimination? Or the disparities in education, employment, family wealth and health outcomes between white and black Valley residents?
Mahoning County Republican Party Chairman Mark Munroe was right when he described Miller’s comments as wrong, offensive, and unreflective of reality. But that begs the question then of why the Trump campaign would choose someone for leadership who was so clearly out of touch with the community she was supposed to be representing.
Whether Miller was willfully ignorant or intentionally deceptive, her comments are more than just wrong and offensive; they’re damaging and hurtful. They are dismissive of the suffering of generations of African-Americans in this community and a setback to efforts to build trust and relationships.
A big piece of the work facing everyone in the Valley as we try to rebuild our community is owning up to history – our real history, both the good and the bad. And that means telling the truth about what has happened in this place. Despite what Miller said last week, that truth does indeed include a legacy of racism that denied African-Americans opportunities to own homes, get quality education, earn fair wages and even just live with basic human dignity. We have to own it and be willing to hear it and feel the pain of it. And then, hopefully, with God’s grace, we can begin to reconcile, heal and move forward.
Next month, Pastor Michael Harrison, the board president of my organization, Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, and the pastor of Union Baptist Church in Youngstown, will lead in that direction when Union Baptist hosts a community forum with representatives of the candidates running for U.S. president this November. At the forum, voters will be able to ask hard questions, and then we’ll need to listen closely. During this campaign season of reckless and condescending statements from politicians and their surrogates, this forum will be an opportunity to get clarity on where the candidates stand, including their understanding of our shared history.
Just a few hours after the video of Kathy Miller’s comments went viral, the Trump campaign had accepted her resignation, replaced her, and reassigned her role as an elector to the Electoral College, probably hoping to keep the story to a one-day headline. Miller’s words were swiftly condemned and swept away.
But for those of us who live here, there is no quick fix. There’s only the long, hard work of building relationships, telling the truth, listening to one another, and then organizing together to find and push for solutions. That’s the kind of leadership our community and our nation needs. We need to hold ourselves to that higher standard, and so do those who aspire to lead our country.
The Rev. Marcia Dinkins is the executive director of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative.