Beryl Feinberg is holding a sign opposing the widening of I-270, in Asian costume, with students holding certificates, cleaning up a stream, and talking with a Latino man and an African American woman. What do these images mean? That voters need to re-elect her to Rockville City Council because she’ll “preserve Rockville’s character” and “embrace Rockville’s future.” But her campaign postcard is deceiving.
Michelle Whittaker would know—she’s the African American woman shown in Feinberg’s mailer. She doesn’t support Feinberg’s candidacy for city council and ironically is the campaign manager for Virginia Onley for Mayor, one of her opponents. So why is she in the shown in Feinberg’s campaign literature?
Obviously, Feinberg used the photo to assure voters that she supports diversity and inclusion—gosh, look at all the people of color in her mailer! But we’re now aware it’s a dishonest portrayal. Indeed, it continues Feinberg’s insensitivity around diversity and inclusion. A year ago, the NAACP accused Feinberg of racism in her deliberations over the hiring of an African American woman for City Clerk.
Feinberg isn’t alone in her insensitivity around race and ethnicity. David Myles, a pediatrician, Navy veteran, and Yale graduate who is also running for City Council, has had Rockville residents call the police as he was walking door to door to meet voters. They probably couldn’t tell he was a pediatrician and Navy veteran, just that he was African American man in their white neighborhood. He was out of place, didn’t belong, a stranger. Yup, in 2019.
When these types of events occur, it gives people of color a reminder that their place in society is insecure and can be easily threatened. It isn’t without merit. Rockville has a long and disappointing history around race, with segregated schools and businesses until the 1950s, neighborhood threats in the 1960s, and a Confederate statue downtown that wasn’t removed until a few years ago. Attitudes around race change very slowly because they are incredibly hard to see. In her New York Times best-selling book, White Fragility, sociologist Robin DiAngelo points out that “everyone has prejudice, and everyone discriminates,” which is
particularly challenging for many white people, because we are taught that to have a racial viewpoint is to be biased. Unfortunately, this belief protects our biases, because denying that we have them ensures that we won’t examine or change them.From White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo (2018)
Bias. We don’t like it because it conjures up the idea that we’re being irrationally unfair. When Mayor Newton’s was asked about her decision to oppose the hiring of the City Clerk, she stated that, “Absolutely there is no racial bias. This had absolutely nothing to do with that.” But if we dismiss it, we can actually make matters worse because we’re unwilling to even consider how we might be contributing to a bad situation. If you keep your eyes and ears closed, it doesn’t make it go away.
How can Rockville move beyond this? By confronting it. But that means our community leaders need to set the pace and be willing to consider they are probably prejudiced and discriminatory—and the faster they realize these shortcomings, the faster they’ll be able to overcome it. If you’ve dug yourself in a hole, stop digging.
And voters, it’s also a chance to move the community forward by electing leaders who are more sensitive and thoughtful about racism and prejudice. Don’t return Bridget Newton or Beryl Feinberg to office. You’ll be rewarding them for their unacceptable behavior and it will continue for another four years.
Note: This blog is by Max van Balgooy, acting as an individual resident of the Rockville. While he is the chair of Team Rockville, this blog expresses the opinions only of Max van Balgooy. The articles are not reviewed by any Team Rockville member before they are posted. In MaxForRockville.org, he has at times been critical of Team Rockville individuals who have been elected to office, for example, over the non-completion of council meeting minutes and failure to meet the state’s Open Meeting Act. I’m an equal-opportunity critic; read the About page for more details.