OPINION: Why the New Rochelle Board of Education’s Definition of Racism Matters

Written By: Robert Cox

Some members of the New Rochelle Board of Education have sought to minimize the significance of the questions raised by my recent article on how board members define racism — or ignore the questions altogether.

I want to address the New Rochelle community on why I thought it important to better understand a statement made at a Town Hall meeting last week at New Rochelle High School and why I strongly disagree with those who say this topic is a distraction.

I want to point out that I did not raise this issue or solicit the remarks which spawned this controversy but I have been determined to pin everyone down and get them to provide a full and frank articulation of the meaning of the language being inserted to the public dialogue over the hiring of Dr. Feijóo but this issue goes well beyond that.

My effort began with an attempt to afford New Rochelle Board President Amy Moselhi an opportunity to reconcile remarks she made at a Town Hall meeting to introduce Dr. Laura Feijóo last Wednesday and an undated letter she sent to the NAACP New Rochelle Branch.

The problem with that is that much of what she said turned out to be untrue. I am not saying she is lying but a steady flow of inaccuracies has complicated my effort to clarify her remarks.

Last week, Moselhi said “For the first time we are having a conversation of this size, at this level, and that is something that is important and should be sustained, these conversations need to continue to happen.”

Fine. But so far these “conversations” have been confused and muddled primarily because the person leading them is relying on her own personal definition of words and phrases rather than commonly understood meanings; the dictionary has been tossed aside and politically-charged language like “prejudice plus power” or “people who have come to be known as white” inserted instead.

This bastardization of language is not helpful. Words matter. We cannot have a conversation if we are not speaking the same language. I know that most residents in New Rochelle speak English, many speak Spanish and still others a variety of other languages but few could hope to understand the radical-left jargon emanating from the high school cafeteria last week.

In a text message to Moselhi on the Friday after the Town Hall, I stated I wanted to ask an “on the record” question. I said I thought hers was “a vital answer to provide to the public”.

“I understood you to say you did not believe there was such a thing as REVERSE RACISM…an undated letter you sent to the NAACP NR Branch referenced Dr. Feijóo’s lawsuit as a REVERSE DISCRIMINATION lawsuit… how you can have a REVERSE DISCRIMINATION lawsuit by a white woman against a Hispanic man without REVERSE RACISM?

Moselhi answered by relying on a definition of racism under which only white people can be racist, that people of color cannot be racist so racism is always a one-way street (white on people of color but not the reverse).

She blamed the NAACP for using the term “reverse discrimination” to describe Feijóo’s lawsuit first, in their letter to her, but after the NAACP disputed her account she backtracked, saying she was mistaken about the NAACP letter. I have since read the letter and there is no mention of reverse discrimination.

While it is good she corrected this error, she still left the original question unanswered. When I asked for an answer to my original question, Moselhi did not want to answer.

“It’s not that big of a deal,” said Moselhi.

Obviously, I do not agree that this is not a big deal.

On Tuesday, Moselhi backtracked yet again, this time on her statement at the Town Hall that her board colleagues “understand racism to be prejudice plus power.”

“You asked me yesterday if I spoke to my colleagues before making this statement and I said no,” wrote Moselhi in email copied to all board members. “Please know that this comment does not have the consensus of the BOE.”

Fine. But how is that corrective to the hundreds of people at the Town Hall or those watching on social media or via media coverage. It’s not.

In an email to Moselhi, Board Vice President Paul Warhit supported my request to identify which board members shared her understanding of racism defined as “prejudice plus power” because “we” are “making something big out of something small.”

Obviously, I do not agree that this is something small.

Regardless, Moselhi declined to do so and instead directed that I ask board members about this directly which I have since done.

As of publication, no other board member said they shared Moselhi’s understanding of racism.

Paul Warhit, Rachel Relkin, Lianne Merchant, William Ianuzzi, and Christopher Daniello all said “no” to the question “do you understand racism to be “prejudice plus power”?

Valerie Williams chose to ignore the question, writing, “Madam President emailed you a clarification of her comment in the email below. The BOE was copied on it and apologies were made. I believe your query has been answered.” To which I replied, “My query to you has not been answered by you because my query to you is “do you understand racism to be “prejudice plus power”?” Williams did not respond further.

Julia Muggia-Ochs said “I will pass on this question, as I don’t feel providing an answer can help our community at this time.  I am having face to face conversations with individuals who are contacting me, and I am here to listen and to learn.” Of course, I am an individual and I am contacting her, and doing so at the direction of the Board President and with the encouragement of the Board Vice President.

Todd Kern did not respond to repeated emails.

YES – 1

NO – 5

ABSTAIN – 2

NO VOTE – 1

It is not simply that there is “not consensus”on the “prejudice plus power” definition of racism but rather than Moselhi is alone in having this understanding, the exact opposite of what she stated publicly at the Town Hall meeting.

The notion that clarifying the matter is unimportant or a sidebar or a distraction or as Moselhi put it “no big deal” or as Warhit put it “something small,” is to ignore the full context of Moselhi’s statement at the Town Hall which was made to mollify community members opposed to Feijóo, present at the Town Hall, who expressed deep skepticism that the board understood their anger, frustration and hurt over their decision to hire Feijóo.

As Moselhi’s full statement makes clear, the matter goes to the heart of how the board will make decisions.

“I have said publicly, I do not believe reverse racism exists. I absolutely believe that my colleagues understand racism to be prejudice plus power. We do understand that. I really want the community to hear us. I am giving the most honest answer I can provide which is the board supports Dr. Feijóo and it is clear that the lens through which we were looking is not aligned with the lens the community (gesturing towards the audience in front of her) wants us to look through and that will inform future decisions. We are here and (crosstalk) to do the hard work. This has not been easy for any of us. We understand that our decision has brought you out. And in many ways that has been very, very, very, very painful. I understand that and I regret the pain that has been caused by this decision (gesturing towards Dr. Feijóo).”

In that statement, Moselhi (falsely) attributed to the entire board a radical, politically-driven concept of racism, which she contends (falsely) is a widely-held view, a view she says (falsely) is the only view the board has ever held since she has been on the board (25 months), a view she says she learned after she and other board members spent a weekend in an “anti-racism training” class led by David Peters, a paid “core trainer” for the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (a course she took 9 months ago not 25 months ago).

The People’s Institute is a radical-left group which pushes the “prejudice plus power” concept which holds that only white people can be racist, that minorities cannot be racist and that Louis Farrakhan is not an anti-Semite.

And here is why this a very, big deal.

She then states this radical left “definition” of racism is the “lens” the board will use to “inform future decisions.”

That is hardly a sidebar issue – it is the whole ball game.

It is why the reaction to my previous article has been so animated and one-sided. It is why not a single board member has endorsed Moselhi’s ideas on racism. Moselhi is promising far-left radicals that the board will align with them going forward.

This issue is not only not a “small” issue, it is THE issue, it goes to the heart of defining what the school board is all about, it is about a radical politicization of the school board which invariably leads to threats and intimidation and, ultimately, purges of the non-believers, it is about what sort of school district we want to be, its about real estate values, future development and the ongoing flight of education-sensitive parents since the student-on-student violence in 2018 shined a bright light on serious, unaddressed failures in our school system.

So, yeah. It is a big friggin’ deal.

We need to get clear on all this stuff before our school district falls into the abyss and becomes something unrecognizable and unfathomable to all but a tiny handful of residents.

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