An official of a Chicago suburb went on a rant during a government meeting on Monday, shouting that her white male colleagues “shouldn’t have an opinion” about “diversity.”
Trustee Susan Buchanan snapped during the final agenda item of the more than three hour meeting: a proposed update to Oak Park’s official diversity statement. The seven voting board members had reached consensus on most of the document’s social justice jargon. But two conservative-leaning trustees, Deno Andrews and Dan Moroney, took issue with its pledge to “break down systems of oppressions.”
Andrews wanted to remove the phrase entirely, while Moroney argued for clarifying its meaning to exclude institutions that he seemed to feel were under attack, like capitalism and law enforcement.
“I hesitate to send the message to our police department that they are a system of oppression,” he said.
With tensions already high after a lengthy dispute over joining an anti-racist coalition of local governments, Buchanan significantly escalated the rhetoric around race and gender.
“I’m so tired of hearing two white men tell us what systems of oppression are,” she said, slamming her fist on the dais. “For Christ’s sake, no! No! You don’t know what systems of oppression are. You’ve never been oppressed!”
The assembled community members erupted in applause and cheers.
Susan Buchanan versus the white men
Buchanan went on to say that sharing the men sharing their views about the diversity statement was like them trying to explain what it’s like to have a menstrual cycle. She also pointed out that they had never lived with “dark brown skin.”
“From birth you have been white! From birth!” she exclaimed. “Why are you arguing what is a system of oppression. You’ve never experienced one! So shut up!” I don’t want to hear from you! Just stop!”
After another round of applause, Buchanan continued: “You are not oppressed, and people in Oak Park are, and we are trying to recognize that as a community. This mayor and this board is obviously not willing to face history. We have a chance to make history! It is time for this community to face equity! Enough!”
Then, addressing Andrews and Moroney individually, she said, “You, stop it. You are a white male. And you, stop it. You are a white male. Your skin is white enough!”
Andrews and Moroney calmly disagreed that their skin color disqualified them from contributing to the policy discussion.
“I got elected by 7,000 people to do my job,” Andrews said, claiming that constituents had told him they found some of the diversity statement’s wording “ridiculous.” “Not everybody shares your opinion.”
“You shouldn’t have an opinion on that. That’s the point. Why do you have an opinion on equity?” Buchanan said, continuing the fist pounding. “No one cares what you guys think. Nobody cares.”
When James Taglia, another trustee who appeared to be a white male, tried to speak up, Buchanan yelled, “I don’t care what you have to say!”
Moroney later objected: “I think if we reduce these conversations to ‘Nobody cares what you have to say because you’re a white male,’ I don’t think we’re doing this wrong. You don’t know my history, about friendships that I’ve forged …”
Buchanan interjected, “I’m a white female. I’m married to and African-American man. I don’t have an opinion about this!”
“Obviously, you do,” quipped Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb.
Before adjourning the meeting, the board voted unanimously to amend the diversity statement, leaving in place the phrase “we work to break down systems of oppressions,” but adding specific reference to “racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and other forms of bias and hate.”
A country divided
Clips from the official footage of the meeting were subsequently picked up by the press and circulated on social media.
Asked about her outburst on Wednesday by Chicago’s CBS 2, Buchanan conceeded, “I probably showed more emotion than I should have.”
However, she stood by her basic point, saying: “I strongly believe that there is a time when white people, including myself, should stand back.”
Buchanan is not alone in her views. In their fervor to empower members of groups deemed marginalized or oppressed, progressive activists are often accused of embodying the racism they claim to be fighting.
In one recent example, last Monday, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, told Detroit Police Chief James Craig that he should only employ black people on the department’s facial recognition team because “non-African Americans think African Americans all looks the same.”
However, Craig, who is black, immediately rejected the Michigan’ Democrat’s suggestion and later called it “racist.”