Cato Highway Superintendent Gary Cole recently used a racial slur twice during a town board meeting.
Cole used the expression "There is a n----- in the fence" in reference to the town's lackluster insurance policy. He continued that "It didn't take long for that n----- to surface."
Cole has since apologized, saying that he used the word in the context of an old "farmer's phrase" dating back to the 1800s. The derogatory phrase refers to slaves traveling on the Underground Railroad.
I am shocked that anyone could use a racial slur so casually, not once but twice during a public meeting. I also don't see how a blatantly racist phrase could possibly be used to describe a bad insurance policy. The comparison is far too strong, to say the least.
I don't want to make a bad situation worse for Cole, but to claim that the phrase is in any way common farmer lingo also perpetuates negative stereotypes about farmers and people who live in rural areas.
I grew up in a rural farming community. I have never heard the expression "there is a n----- in the fence" from a farmer or anyone else.
Eli Hernandez, president of the Auburn-Cayuga NAACP, is following up with the New York branch to request further action. I really hope that further action will include some measure of education.
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Respect for cultural differences is so much more than a list of words we shouldn't say. In my opinion, punishing someone for saying something wrong isn't as meaningful as educating that person about the reasons why his behavior was so hurtful.
Cultural insensitivity often stems from a complete ignorance of other cultures, religions and values. Taking the steps to properly educate people about other cultures might help foster a deeper understanding as to why certain language and behavior is inappropriate.
Frankly, I think a lesson on ethnic diversity would be a good refresher for everyone, especially in a society that promotes political correctness more than cultural understanding. After all, political correctness doesn't mean anything for those who still harbor hatred in their hearts.
In my research I wasn't able to find any treatment or education program designed to teach tolerance to adults. That saddened me greatly. We teach tolerance to our children in schools. Why should adults be excluded from these important lessons?
They say you're never too old to learn a new skill. And I firmly believe that tolerance is worth teaching at any age.
Estabrook's column appears Mondays and she can be reached at email@example.com.