Mayor Myrick (file photo)

ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick spoke about race relations in America in an interview published on WHCU Radio’s website on Tuesday after a shooting last week at a black church in Charleston, SC, killed nine people.


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WHCU’s Lee Rayburn began by asking Myrick for the best way to combat racism in the United States.

Here’s how Ithaca’s mayor responded … what follows in italics below come from various portions of Myrick’s WHCU interview:

Svante Myrick: “What a tremendous question, and one I know so many people in our country are grappling with right now. I think the very best thing is to break down the economic barriers that exist between different ethnic groups in this country.”

“One of the most pervasive forms of structural racism is the racism that has meant that if you are black in this country, you are more likely to be poor; if you are Latino in this country, you are more likely to be poor; and if you are white in this country, you are less likely to be poor.”

“What that’s done is it perpetuates not just stereotypes, but realities — because the people who are poor in this country are also more likely to be arrested, more likely to spend time in prison, less likely to get an advanced education, less likely to get career opportunities, and not likely to climb ladders, (and) less likely to be able to afford housing in safe, beautiful neighborhoods.”

“So, unless we address the structural deficit that led us to this point — I mean, the list is long … it begins with slavery, but slavery is only the beginning of it. Jim Crow, segregation and de-facto segregation used by redlining and real estate agents leading people of color away from good schools with the good schools …

Mayor Myrick (file photo)
Mayor Myrick (file photo)

Myrick on telling a better story about race relations

SM: “I grew up in a very rural part of the world — a village of just 800 people. The white folks I grew up with never felt like they had a lot of advantages; they never felt like they were catching all the breaks. They never felt they were the beneficiaries of a 400-year-old system that provided opportunities to them and kept opportunities from other people, and in a lot of ways they’re right.

“Not every white person is racist and not every white person knowingly perpetuates structural racism, but what we’ve got to do I think is tell a better story of how providing better opportunity for everyone won’t hurt any one particular group. This is not a zero sum game; to provide opportunities to pull up black and Hispanic families does not mean pulling down white families. Letting more kids of color into college does not mean letting fewer kids from white families into college …

On growing up bi-racial

SM: “I was actually taught by my mom at a very young age … we’d read these books together — James Baldwin and WEB Dubois — and we’d talk about what it would mean to be black … and she taught me at a very young age that you don’t really get to choose the way people see you; you can choose the way you feel about yourself, but … she told me at a very young age, ‘You are a black man that’s who you are.’”

…She was right for the most part, and I feel a lot of pride in that I also have a very interesting perspective, growing up being raised by my white mother and absent my black father has given me quite a lot of insight ….

On working with police as a mayor and young black man

SM: “This is something I’ve learned, especially when working with the police department, which is the front line of race relations … Now I find myself in a position where I supervise the police department and I’m a young black man, the exact demographic that’s so often in the wrong side of these exchanges …

“That’s a very strange place to find yourself in. I thought at first I’d be a good ambassador from one side to the other. I thought I could walk into a roomful of police officers and explain the black experience; I thought I could walk into a roomful of people of color and explain the police perspective.

“I’ve learned Im not capable of it. That it’s not something that one spokesperson can do — especially someone as imperfect a spokesperson as I am. The black experience is too complex, it’s too large for anyone to grasp, much less anyone person … and being a police officer is equally just as complicated …

“So what I’ve found is that the best thing I can do as mayor is my convening authority … when I call a meeting people actually show up, which is nice … to bring people from the black community and the police department together so they can represent themselves … I think the best way I can use that perspective is to give it to other people.”

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Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.