Over the holiday weekend, I was alerted, via the Conor Friedersdorf twitter feed, to the a meeting that took place on Zoom and was recorded for posterity, of an advisory local school council in Manhattan:

The meeting starts off straightforward enough: President Maud Maron outlines the agenda for the meeting, which calls for respectfulness among the members of the council, and asks for the council members to work to end their divisiveness, referencing a “ugly” June 11 meeting (not available online) and a proposal for a “norming session,” that is, a session in which to establish norms of appropriate behavior in how the council members work together.  Maron affirms her opposition to racism, then says, “it is possible to condemn racism and at the same time to extend grace and compassion to the people who disappoint you” (8:33).  Fair enough, no?

But then all hell breaks loose.

Council member Eric Goldberg calls her statement “hollow” and accuses her of “deny[ing her] culpability in creating an environment of division and divisiveness.”

Member Robin Broshi jumps in, in a fury.  At first it appears to be an ordinary sort of division, with ordinary sorts of disputes that are the bane of any such board — personality conflicts, complaints about power and process — no different than, say, a homeowner’s association or condo board meeting.   But it soon becomes clear that it’s something more:

“We had over 100 parents write you [Maron] a letter explaining why a member of this council was extraordinarily offensive and racist during a meeting . . . A member of this council was racist and I did nothing and I’m ashamed I did nothing and I can sit here during a public meeting and say I’m sorry, I made a mistake, I didn’t speak out verbally when multiple times during the meeting one of the members engaged in behavior that made me ache and hurt for the non-white people that were logged in.”

What was the offensive behavior?

Said council member, during the meeting, had a family member visiting, with a child “of color” (his nephew/a family friend – it isn’t clear), as they say, and held that child on his lap during the meeting, saying “my living room is integrated.”

Another speaker, council Vice-President Edward Irizarry, in a fury, accuses Broshi of “cosmetic diversity,” in an extended speech about educational opportunities for black and Latino children, in which he lends his support to Maron and condemns “show boating and white fragility and all this nonsense that doesn’t make a child learn.”

Broshi jumps back in:  “I want to apologize to you.  I want to acknowledge that calling out the one vote was an example of white privilege and it was an example of trying to silence the legitimacy of your space on this council . . . . There’s work — everyone has work to do and I have work to do.  I have 40 plus years of white supremacy I need to undo and that was unfair of me to make that point and I don’t want to silence your voice, and your voice has merit, Edward.”

Thomas Wrocklage, the accused racist, then jumps in to defend himself, and Broshi repeats that his action was “racist behavior” and was and instance of “white people exhibiting their power over people of color.”  She continues, “if you won’t even read a book about white fragility . . . I can’t sit here in a working  business meeting and educate you.”

This is only in the first half-hour of a 90 minute meeting — it continues in this fashion for most of the remaining time, though other voices try to dial back the furor, and at least some of the subsequent discussion gets into the sort of conflicts which, again, are routine in these sorts of forums, and all the more so when volunteers fall into disagreements — complaints that one person or another is abusing their power, is failing in their duties, is being too critical of others.  And the March 26 Zoom meeting likewise posted on Zoom, is a much more sedate affair.

But this illustrates the harm of this relentless focus on racism and the anti-racist cause.  Broshi herself insists that she’s ordinarily nonconfrontational, noncombative, but she, as well as Wrocklage’s other opponents, all of whom identify themselves as (white) allies to black people, lose their ability to calmly step back from their anger.

Is this a one-off?  Does Broshi look at this video and cringe?  Or is this fury repeating itself over and over again?  In any case, what’s meant as a set of tools (“white fragility”) for seeing the world in a better way and making it a better place has become toxic and harmful.


Elizabeth Bauer is a Forbes contributor and actuary who lives in the Chicago area. She also writes as Jane the Actuary at Patheos.com, is an occasional contributor at The Federalist, and tweets at @janetheactuary.


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