Readers Write: Racist letters have no place in this paper

The Island Now



Lifelong Great Neck resident here, one among many who was disappointed to read yesterday’s editorial essentially defending your publication of the “nonsense” (your words) and salacious (my words) opinion piece by Joan Swirsky. Where does one begin?

While I sympathize with your point about not having the resources to properly fact-check—knowing how under-funded and under-staffed media, especially local ones, are these days—I simply have to question your editorial judgment. What part of Ms. Swirksy’s piece did you think was fit to print? Was it her disparagement of public education, in the newspaper of a town that prides itself on having one of the top public school systems in the country? Or was it the tantalizing title that drew you in, obvious clickbait that would bring more readers to your site? Anyone in any editorial position would take one look at that title alone and surmise that its only purpose was to stir division.

Don’t know what camp you fall into but in my book, racial justice—and quite frankly, all areas of human rights—is not and should not be a partisan issue. If these last six weeks have revealed anything, it is that everyone, regardless of their background or political affiliation, is responsible for both the longevity and thus the dismantling of the corrosive systems that divide us; anything less, neutral, or to the contrary reinforces those power structures that doomed this nation from the start. Running a well-argued piece about how Republican policies may help Black Americans? I may be intrigued! Running a piece that leans on overt racist stereotypes about Black Americans to further a conservative agenda? Part of the problem.

To that point, I’d also like to call your attention to the piece of this editorial that identified Ms. Swirsky’s piece as “at least not explicitly racist.” This is, first, categorically untrue, apropos the aforementioned reliance on racial stereotypes (e.g., the welfare queen). But it also makes me wonder: What do you consider to be “explicit racism”? Is implicit racism alright with you, and does it fit with the ideals of the publication you run? Are you unaware of the lasting psychological harm that racial stereotypes and microaggressions can leave on Black Americans and other Americans of color? What is less harmful about allowing a white resident to wield inane stereotypes about Blackness to bolster her claim to know anything about the plight of Black Americans compared to our Embarrassment of a President retweeting a video of white supremacists chanting “All Lives Matter”? Did you ever once consider how some already-alienated Black residents of Great Neck might feel reading a piece like Ms. Swirsky’s? These aren’t rhetorical questions, I am genuinely curious to know.

But the most confusion piece of your editorial came in the concluding paragraphs:

Perhaps after the construction of Confederate statutes, the naming of military bases after traitors who attacked the United States government to protect slavery and decades of race-baiting politicians a letter in our papers would make a difference in the promotion of racism. But we don’t think censoring bad ideas serves democracy best.

It is lost on me why you would think to compare journalism to the erection of Confederate statues (which, by the way, is the correct term for a constructed monument; statutes refer to written laws passed by a legislative body). I’m actually not even sure what you are trying to say here, given the general lack of coherence, but I have read this in two ways. Either one, you have only now just begun to consider the possibility that giving voice to hateful ideas (and poorly argued ones at that) in your publication continues our country’s long and painful tradition of glorifying racist people and power structures. This would make your publication of pieces like Ms. Swirsky’s, at best, a pitiful lapse in editorial judgment.

But I cannot help but read this tone as being somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a confession that you do not believe the contents of your own paper make a difference. It is baffling that a newspaper editor would undermine the efficacy of its own publication in an editorial that, on the whole, makes a claim for the protection of the First Amendment right to free speech of all kinds, an amendment that allows publications like this one to exist. By this interpretation, your statement makes it painfully clear how you allowed such an egregiously offensive piece to run: Even you do not think the contents of your own newspaper matter.

Most of all, I am struggling to understand the logic behind your argument that in order to defend democracy, we must make space for ideas and thoughts that are not only antithetical to that ideal, but that directly undermine it. I love words; I believe in words. But I also believe the word “democracy” has become somewhat empty: yes, an ideal on which this country was founded, but one that has become abstracted to absurdity by conservatives and members of the far-right, under the guise of upholding systems under which democracy has failed.

It is not that I think democracy as an ideal—one that advocates for liberty and justice for all—is a pipe dream; it is just that, as it stands now, it is still just an ideal, a distant hope that has yet to be realized. Remember that when our founding fathers founded this government as a democracy, its definition was limited to white men of property; still today, it is a word behind which our leaders—generally similarly privileged cisgender heterosexual white men—have hidden in order to stall progress. And while people like Ms. Swirsky may believe we have achieved equality, everything from the last six weeks—hell, the last four years—has proven otherwise. So please forgive me if I think wielding “democracy” as a defense in support of your failures on the job a weak debate tactic.

Simple request: the next time you think of publishing a navel-gazing piece about the purpose of journalism to defend your inability to properly do your job, please just do your job instead.

Nicole Biton

Great Neck


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