Council Corner: Prejudice takes many forms

This summer Ashland started working on a process to “unpack “ racism. I am glad Ashland is addressing this issue in a proactive way. I hope we continue to look at how we can be a community that truly sees all our citizens as unique individuals.

Prejudice in its many forms is a personal issue to me. When I was 5, my name was changed from Stephania Wieckowski to Stephanie Curtis. My parents, being first-generation Americans from Poland, did not want me to suffer the prejudice and discrimination they experienced. I remember the shame I felt when I heard Pollack jokes in school. In Britain today Polish immigrants face discrimination.

My extended family includes children with a wide range of mixed ethic backgrounds. I have Afro-American, Japanese, Italian, Thai and Danish nieces and nephews. I have seen the struggles they have faced with being accepted in school and the prejudice several of them encountered from being second language learners. One of my nieces has said she feels she is not fully accepted by either group.

Issues of discrimination go beyond race and religion. "Short People," a popular song by Randy Newman billed as a satire, includes the line, “short people got no reason to live.” Working as a school psychologist, I know a number of young boys who were hurt by having it played. One young man felt he would not be able to find a girl that would date him because he was 5 feet, 2 inches tall. An article on Sen. Rand Paul states he has has a “stature problem,” being only 5 feet, 7 inches tall and, like past presidential candidate Michael Dukakis, would have little chance of winning because he would not look presidential. Books with short male characters often describe them as having a “Napoleon complex,” implying negative attributes to persons of shorter stature.

Discrimination against women is well documented and continues to exist. Wage disparity, lack of reproductive rights, date rape, spousal abuse and lack of child care options remain. A young woman I know was asked in a job interview when she was going to start a family — a question that would not have been asked of a male candidate.

The August Parks and Rec Business magazine had a cover article titled “Lose the Senior Center Stereotype.” The article said baby boomers don’t want to be associated with the traditional perceptions of aging. Folks over 55 are not coming to senior centers as much these days because of these negative concepts. Many cities are changing their models to Centers for Active Adult Learning or Multi-generational Centers, with a realization that our stereotypes of older Americans need to change.

As a class adviser at Aptos High School, I noted in the graduation edition of the school paper a column titled "where are they going." It listed the graduates who were attending college and universities. Students who were headed to jobs or trade schools were not listed, as if they did not exist. Current data from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that the majority of adults in the United States do not have college degrees, with 33 percent of adults having a bachelor's degree. Hispanic and black adults and individuals with disabilities have a lower rate of educational attainment. Non-college graduates are often clumped together and seen as being less informed and less intelligent and often face more job discrimination. I have talked with individuals in Ashland who would not run for an office because they did not have a college education.

As a city councilor I hope I see citizens as individuals and not groups. I want to continue to address issues of discrimination in our community and to rise to the challenge to represent all of our citizens as important and unique with equal rights to fair treatment. I hope in our national elections fear is not the main motivator in how we choose our leaders. I am proud of our city council’s recent votes in support of equity issues. I wish to recognize our Mayor John Stromberg for his open-minded and positive approach to city leadership.

— Stef Seffinger is a member of the Ashland City Council.

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