I have lived in Rochester for 10 years, and I have been called “nigger” and other slurs more here than all my life living in Baltimore, North Carolina, Virginia, and various countries that people claim are extremely racist. Racial slurs are nothing, though. “Nigger” is just a cockroach on the counter. It’s an indicator of a larger system below the surface that is eating away. Rochester refuses to deal with that system beneath. This weatherman controversy has proven how much the problem HASN’T been dealt with.
Rochester has a serious racial divide, and White Rochester still refuses to deal with it, and continues to admonish black folks and brown folks for talking about what has been here since the 1800s. Though no one will ever know what Kappell “meant” to say, whether intentional or accidental, he said a racial slur on the air. People are bending over backwards to defend him, speculating that he jumbled words or combined them. They point out that he “apologized” in a 9-minute video. They blame the mayor for his firing, even though she is not employed by WHEC. They point out all the black people who defended him, which means nothing, because BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT BORG. We are not a hive mind, yet the defenses of him look like they’ve read from the same script.
Perhaps, or perhaps the native Kentuckian, who likes tweets from alt-right trolls, who went to a relatively conservative university in Indiana, who landed a job in one of the most racist counties in New York State, used a word he’s always known and used about a civil rights icon accidentally on the air. I find it hard to believe that a 40-year-old man from Kentucky DOESN’T know what the word “coon” means in reference to black folks. A simple on air “oops sorry” immediately after realizing he said it would have gone a long way. However, he waited 3 days, once he realized his job was in jeopardy. His apology had nothing to do with his sorrow over misspeaking. It had everything to do with what “happened to him”. That everyone, including the local media, is piling on the black female mayor for his termination shows Rochester’s true colors. It never dawned on anyone that maybe he has been problematic in the workplace, and this public flub was the last straw.
This never had to be a national controversy. If racial slurs were treated like curse words, then “coon” would have been dumped on the five second delay, and he might have faced suspension at most. But the fact that the head of the meteorology department, whose job requires him to speak clearly, “flubbed” his words and said a bad one, means he should have faced some punishment.
The overwhelming defense of him by people who don’t know him, the ignoring of people who are affected by it, and the immediate urge to blame the most prominent black woman in the city instead of the television station who did the firing shows how little Rochester has dealt with its disparity. As much as Rochester loves the rest on the laurels of Frederick Douglass’s presence here, we neglect the fact that even he left town to go back down south FROM WHENCE HE ESCAPED. That should tell you something.
Much love to the white folks who took the time to listen to your black friends on this topic and understand that even if it was a twist of words, it was more than that. The rest of you: it’s more than just the one cockroach. The more you ignore, the worse it is going to get.
This essay originally appeared of Chris’s Facebook page
Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. He currently writes the Chronicles of Nonsense segment for the Almost Tuesday show on WAYO-FM 104.3, and regularly posts and writes on his own on Instagram and Twitter at @ChronsOfNon.