A popular refrain being used by white residents of Tillamook County in response to systemic racism is that the issue is important, but it is not something we have to deal with locally. In that comment is the assumption that since our county’s racial makeup is overwhelmingly Caucasian, we shouldn’t have to confront racial inequality in our civic institutions.
The fact is the exact opposite and we must remain vigilant and call out racism and bigotry where we see it. That’s why I’m speaking out about Rockaway Beach Mayor Sue Wilson’s racially insensitive comments made on June 23 via Facebook.
A white Rockaway business owner posted a news article about Lincoln County exempting persons of color from their face mask ordinance due to the potential for racial profiling. Although the ordinance was essentially unenforceable, the Lincoln County commissioners have removed the exemption after news spread on social media.
The Rockaway business owner, whose identity is being withheld due to privacy concerns, suggested the ordinance discriminated against white people and asked how to get an exemption so they wouldn’t have to wear a mask at work.
Mayor Wilson replied to the post with the comment, “I think you have to declare you’re a POC [person of color] to get the exemption…probably a lot of paperwork!!! [three cry laughing emojis]”.
It is not my intention to call Mayor Wilson a racist. I do not know what is in her head, nor do I know her personal background. But I do know that as the head of our government she is responsible — even in her personal life — for representing all of Rockaway. Even the implication of racism is unacceptable for a public official. For Mayor Wilson to make a joke out of the important issue of racial profiling is appalling. Not to mention that she’s making light of wearing face coverings in public, which are necessary to prevent the spread of coronavirus. No public official should be joking about personal protective equipment at a time that demands sober leadership.
It is unfortunate that it has come to this, but as a Rockaway Planning Commissioner I have called upon the mayor to resign her position. I have been in contact with residents of Rockaway who feel hurt by Mayor Wilson’s comments. Her silence and lack of remorse in the wake of her remarks has been deafening.
I would like to applaud the City of Rockaway Beach for reaffirming their equal opportunity employment policy following Mayor Wilson’s comments. The city government must do a better job to protect the reputation of our community. It is not fair to the city employees of Rockaway when our public officials erode the goodwill they’ve worked so hard to build.
Some of you may think this is harsh and that there is little harm in Mayor Wilson’s comments. To that I must implore you; we can no longer sit silently when we see intolerance occur in our own backyard, whether it’s implied or overt. It is our responsibility to speak up and use our voices for the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.
Commissioner Brian Halvorsen