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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Jayne: Face it, Quiring is the problem

By Greg Jayne
Published: July 5, 2020, 6:02am

We all have our blind spots; goodness knows, I have demonstrated mine recently. But the important thing is to recognize those weaknesses and to not exacerbate them by being tone deaf, as well. As the old saying goes, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Yet Clark County Council Chair Eileen Quiring keeps wielding her shovel. She not only has demonstrated ignorance about the most significant social movement of our time, she has made the situation worse by clinging to tropes cultivated to maintain an entrenched power structure.

Let’s start at the beginning. Quiring insisted recently during a county council meeting that she does “not agree we have systemic racism in our county. Period.”

In a follow-up text to The Columbian, she acknowledged that racism exists and wrote, “Nor do I condone racism in any form.” But she added, “From the sheriff’s office and deputies whom I know, none are racist. I know many of our judges in Clark County, I know none are racist. … If all of these people and departments with our county aren’t racist, there is not SYSTEMIC racism! That has always been my point!”

Perhaps this is simply wishful thinking, a Pollyannaish view of the bucolic slice of heaven that is Clark County — systemic racism exists, but surely not here. Or perhaps it is a blind spot that could be cleared up by speaking with — and listening to — the people in our community. As the local chapter of the NAACP wrote in a letter calling for Quiring’s resignation, “We challenge you to become educated on racism and examine your own privilege and racial bias.”

That’s because racism is not limited to Confederate statues or white supremacists carrying torches; it is more insidious. As author Ijeoma Oluo explained to NPR: “What’s actually been impacting our lives are systems that rely on subtle and not so subtle biases against people of color to disempower us and put us at risk. And so we’ve been fighting for job opportunities, for safety from violence, for equal education, for freedom from medical racism. And that is upheld not by how you love or don’t love people of color but by how you participate with our systems.”

Some supporters have come to Quiring’s defense, arguing that she is entitled to her opinion and using her right to free speech. Indeed, she is. But some of the hallmarks of good leadership are a willingness to listen, to learn, and to understand the experiences of others. Quiring oversees a county of 500,000 people; dismissing the experiences of those who don’t personally know deputies and judges seems arrogant and shortsighted.

So does Quiring’s response at a later council meeting, when the idea of a listening session about systemic racism was brought up. Saying she would prefer to wait until some of the vitriol has died down, Quiring said she would like to include people “over 40 (years old) who have experienced a little bit more of history and, maybe, not experienced some of the rewriting of history that’s taken place in some of our education system.”

That, in many ways, encapsulates the entire issue. In Quiring’s world, the problem isn’t systemic racism, it’s the educational system that now dares to point out that racism. It’s not systemic racism, it’s these confounded young people and their desire to challenge wrongs and work to right them. It’s not systemic racism, it’s that people different from her now have the temerity to think they can speak up and be heard. It’s not systemic racism, it’s that the world is changing and she is not equipped to handle it. Never mind that it might be changing for the better, with the long arc of history bending toward justice.

Facilitating that righteous bend is the duty of elected officials, a duty that is obscured when those officials insist that history should be a line rather than an arc. That everything is fine and change is unnecessary. That systemic racism does not exist.

Change is coming, not because of a rewriting of history, but because it is the right thing to do.

And we can adapt or be buried by it.