Online Forum Talks About Racism In Rural New York, Pennsylvania

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TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY (WSKG) – The Poor People’s Campaign conducted an online forum about racism in rural New York on Thursday.

Speakers included people of different races and ethnicities from across the Southern Tier and in the North Country.

Jackie Council is an Afro-Dominican woman who now lives in Elmira. She was adopted at a young age and grew up on a farm in rural northeast Pennsylvania, where some people claimed to be “color-blind”.

It’s there that Council experienced racism that contributed to self-esteem problems.  Problems she could not unlearn until she moved away from home.

“It’s really ok to see color and I say that all the time, you know. I worked really hard to be comfortable in my skin. And to be proud of who I am which is a Afro-Dominican woman,” Council said. “So, it’s ok if you see my color and once you’re able to see my color then we can move forward and have those discussions and educate each other.”

The issue of speaking up, recognizing differences and having uncomfortable conversations came up throughout the forum.

Reverend Ben Fitzgerald-Fye of Scipioville Presbyterian Church was asked whether white people should speak up when they witness acts of racism or bigotry.

Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio

Rev. Ben Fitzgerald-Fye of Scipioville Presbyterian Church was on of the panelist in an online forum about racism in rural New York. July 9, 2020. (screen capture, Celia Clarke/WSKG Public Radio)

“People get exhausted, right, having to fight for their own basic human dignity,” Fitzgerald-Fye said. “And so yes, if you have a single ounce of privilege, you should abuse it for good every chance you get.”

Fitzgerald-Fye said for some people speaking up can be a spiritual act.

“Sometimes abusing privilege in service of justice can be a very sacred thing,” he said.

In many counties along the New York-Pennsylvania border, people of color represent less than 5 percent of the population.

The panel also answered questions about education and organizing in mostly white rural communities.

The forum ended with panelists urging participant to get involved in state or local anti-racism organizations, and to also become politically active.