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Black City Councilor In Attleboro Says 'Diversity Committee' Wouldn't Foster Respect, Merit, or Diversity of Opinion

The mayor of Attleboro’s proposal to create a Diversity Committee in city government drew sharp criticism from the lone black member of the city council earlier this week.

Jonathan Tavares, a city councilor at large and a black man, noted that the city government already has a Council on Human Rights, which is meant to promote similar goals.

He also said that various markers of diversity such as race, ethnicity, sex, and age aren’t as important as merit.

“So I would also caution that while these factors are important, they should always be secondary to meritocracy. We should always be looking to select the best person for the job. So an overemphasis on identity can overshadow the need to make sure we’re matching the right people for the right jobs,” Tavares said during the Attleboro Municipal Council meeting on Tuesday, April 9.

He said a previous mayor rejected him when he applied for four city boards, including once “because of an assumed personal viewpoint that I had.”

“I offer this personal example to illustrate that the promotion of diversity starts from the top down. Starting a diversity commission will not end discrimination or create diversity in and of itself,” Tavares said.

He said he “been the target of insensitive comments’ and “hurtful actions” from some in the past because of his race.

“But creating a committee will not magically end racism or discrimination. I think teaching and living out principles of respect towards others, not just when we agree with them, but especially when we disagree, that’s what will bring about civility, understanding, and productive discourse,” Tavares said. “Unfortunately, we can’t eradicate discrimination. We can’t eradicate racism simply by creating a diversity commission.”

Opposing the creation of such a body for legitimate reasons has made some people in Attleboro feel uncomfortable, he said.

“I’ve heard from many residents who feel the same way, but are afraid to speak out, speak at a public hearing, or otherwise, because they don’t think that the creation of a diversity commission will accomplish this. But they also fear being ostracized and labeled as bigots, simply because they have a different opinion of how to address the issue,” Tavares said.

He said some who spoke in favor of a Diversity Committee at a public hearing “unfairly criticized” the city council “for not being diverse enough simply on the basis of skin color.”

“Ironically this was the very injustice that Martin Luther King Jr. fought against very much of his lifetime,” Tavares said.

City council member Pamela Foa disagreed with Tavares on Mayor Cathleen DiSimone’s proposal to create a Diversity Committee, saying some people in Attleboro feel left out and that such a committee might make them feel included.

“The other thing that you said that I probably do not agree with is that we always want the very best person for the job,” Foa said. “That sounds great. And I’m not proposing, contrary to what happened in the United States Senate 50 years ago, I’m not proposing mediocrity in any job. But I think all that’s required is that someone be able to do the job. And then beyond that, we can look at diversity. We can look at a variety of people from a variety of communities who might be able to do the job. We don’t have to look for the very best. It’s enough that we figure out for a particular job, for a particular vacancy, for a particular volunteer position, what characteristics we want. Then, whenever we find that, there may be a variety of people who need that. And that is a way of enlarging those who participate. So I think there’s a bit of a red herring in looking always for the very best, when what we need is a person who can do the job.”

The Attleboro Municipal Council has 11 members. On Tuesday, several said they think creating a Diversity Committee is a good idea. Others said it might make sense as a subcommittee of the already-existing Council on Human Rights, but not as a stand-alone body.

Council members opted to discuss the matter further at a subsequent meeting.

On Thursday, April 11, The Sun Chronicle of Attleboro reported that because of opposition on the municipal council to her proposed Diversity Committee, the mayor now wants to call it “Attleboro Community Engagement Committee.”


Story source: New Boston Post

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