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Jose Peo’s Racist Rant About Black Folks is the Abysmal Status Quo
Everyone in Rochester got to see Northwest District City Councilor Jose Peo insert his entire foot in his mouth when he used Facebook to accuse black leaders of not keeping black residents safe and pushing for racial disparities in health care:
“Dear black leaders: How about you stop pushing for racial disparities in the medical field [because of] black Coronavirus deaths, and focus on keeping your constituents safe at home so they don’t get is in the first place? This is also what happens when our Mayor takes three weeks to finally decide to be a leader and speak to the community about staying home…the reason why Coronavirus is hitting blacks more often is because of this right here, not because of lack of healthcare.”
There is so much to unpack in this screed, but first let us set the scene. This since-deleted status came up not long after Peo filmed himself in his district on a block where a group of Black folks were congregating. He chided them in the video as well. What he didn’t mention was that the people congregating were at the site of a recent shooting death. Those people were likely mourning a loss. Peo used them to make a derisive video and subsequent status devoid of any compassion for the people in the background. It played well to the racists of Rochester, as this is a similar thing that career bigot bob lonsberry has done on his Twitter, where the Mount Morris resident would go on “healthy runs” around Black and Brown Rochester neighborhoods and take the time out of his exercise regimen to post pictures of empty bottles, jettisoned belongings of evicted residents, or any other indicator of urban squalor devoid of context, compassion or care for the people dealing with a serious situation.
Peo then put it on “black leaders” to herd other black people, but the problem is that Peo is an elected official, and his district is 35-50% Black. By sloughing the responsibility of leadership onto his nebulous “black leaders”, he is evading his responsibility to the people of his district. Shouldn’t he be the person disseminating valuable advice and to his public, not “black leaders”? Of what black leaders is he speaking? Does the district have a segregated seat of Black City Council? Is he the leader of his district, or only the Puerto Rican folks of his district? Though dodging responsibility and disparaging black folks for personal societal gain is a tried-and-true method to join the White ClubTM (See Irish, Italian, Greek, etc), I highly doubt an attempt this blatant will work in these modern times.
The icing on this hate-cake was disparaging Mayor Lovely Warren to punctuate his statement. This is a great way to get the racists of Rochester to support you. These are the people who still blame Lovely Warren for firing a weatherman who said a racial slur on live television. Throwing a Black woman under the bus is an American tradition, after all. I have plenty of issues with some of the decisions she has made as mayor, but at least they are valid. Throwing her name around to get attention is childish.
To the heart of the issue, why are Black folks more affected by COVID19 than other demographics? There is a myriad of reasons. Black folks ARE going out more often than others, but it is often to go to work. Many of them are food service workers, cleaners, hospital orderlies, and other workers deemed essential during this crisis. They are the “front line” about whom celebrities are making song tributes and people are thanking via Snapchat and Facebook filters. They are at most risk despite being paid the least. Historically, Black folks could not afford good healthcare, because we were systematically disadvantaged from accessing resources, including health care, education, and housing. Nearly every conversation about the issue of Black deaths from COVID-19 either glosses over or completely ignores that fact. When Black folks CAN seek medical care, they are often dismissed, ignored or denied. If they are in pain, they are accused of just wanting painkillers for recreation. I am an engineer, and I have received this type of treatment. I had a serious back injury that my doctor dismissed as a little ache. A friend of mine was told he had a venereal disease, put on a regimen of drugs, and during his follow up with another doctor, it turned out he never had one, and he has a stomach issue. A Black person has to go to the doctor with a pile of proof to be taken moderately seriously. Modern healthcare bears the blood of our ancestors, from the birth of gynecology to gene sequencing to the Tuskegee Experiment. Some victims of these types of unethical testing were alive in the last century! No one should question why a Black person may not trust the medical industry. We’ve been guinea pigs too many times.
Truthfully, the crowd that Peo used as a prop before his statement was doing something unwise. Congregating that close together is not a good idea given the CDC guidelines, even if mourning a person. It is callous to not take that into account, though.Furthermore, Black folks are not the only ones violating the distance guidelines. People are crowding each other in Wegmans, in Target, in Walmart, in Lowes, in every shopping center that is open. Despite the stores’ efforts to place guidelines and markers throughout their stores, patrons are often ignoring them, walking in with no masks, being much less than 6 feet apart from strangers, ignoring walk traffic signs. Those people filmed on the corner were in their own neighborhood. Patrons of Wegmans come from all over. By volume of people alone, that seems like a more likely spreader of a virus than neighbors on a corner. I don’t see Peo or anyone else expending energy about the near capacity crowding of shopping centers, though.
Jose Peo did nothing new. He just echoed the same “respectability politics” talking points that people dole out to blame Black and Brown folks for whatever the malady of the day is. All he did was show that even people of color and Democrats regularly participate in this tired game. It is doubtful he’ll resign from his post. He only won his primary by 20 votes, though. Perhaps his re-election campaign will not go as well.
About Chris Thompson
(he/his/him) Chris Thompson is an engineer, writer, comedian, and activist who made Rochester, New York his home in 2008. In addition to his role as Contributor for 540Blog 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.Additionally , Chris is a Food Writer for Rochester City Newspaper. His blog is www.chroniclesofnonesense.com
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