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Editorial: No minority status lesser than another

That the color of a Jewish person’s skin is white has no bearing on the fact that he or she is a minority in America.

That statement may seem totally detached from anything in Salisbury, but it’s relevant in the context of a comment made by Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins during Tuesday night’s Salisbury City Council meeting. In a discussion about ensuring people of color are represented proportionally on the city’s boards and commissions, Heggins responded to the nomination of Jon Post to a citizen board and the statement by Mayor Karen Alexander that he’s a minority because he’s Jewish by saying, “Please take in the spirit that I say it, people who are Jewish are a minority by, many times, their religion, but they are not a minority by race.”

The facts of the statement are correct, sure, but it carries with it the suggestion people who are Jewish are less of a minority than people of color. Jews have been persecuted for their faith throughout history, were the victims of genocide during World War II and in America have seen increased anti-semitic activity. The Anti-Defamation League says anti-semitic incidents hit an all-time high in 2019. Data for 2020 hasn’t been published yet.

Said simply, their lived experiences and that of their ancestors are different. So are the experiences of Black Americans and people of color, who have been persecuted for generations via slavery, Jim Crow and modern-day racism. Both bring important perspectives to any public policy conversation.

Heggins, who did not respond to a request to talk about her statement, encouraged the council to pause and see what the options are for getting more people of color in citizen board seats. That’s good. There are likely many qualified people who might not be inclined to apply unless someone asks, particularly if that person is a City Council member.

Citizen boards include groups like the Community Appearance Commission, Fair Housing Committee, Greenway, Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee, Historic Preservation Commission and Human Relations Council.

At present, it’s clear a larger portion of citizen board members (70%) than Salisbury’s residents have white skin and are not Hispanic or Latino (49.3%). A breakdown provided by the city of Salisbury shows 21 members of citizen boards are Black, 73 are white, three are Asian, six are Hispanic, one is Filipino-American and one is unspecified. Boards are majority female — 58 women and 47 men.

As part of the same effort, the council should also examine whether dates, times and conditions to serve on the council exclude working class people.

In trying to create a diverse cadre of citizen board members, however, the council can aim for diversity without disparaging someone’s minority status. As many Americans and North Carolinians learned in the previous year following protests for racial justice, it’s possible to step on someone’s toes or offend when that’s not the intention. In that respect, everyone needs to work harder to build a more inclusive community.

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