Sure, lots of farming families picked cotton. We’re in Appalachia. Plenty of us grew up in families where self-sufficiency was the only means of survival. But it does not invalidate the struggles of the Black community. Nor does it erase history. It is easy to see through coded language. White people were never enslaved on American soil or forced to pick cotton (refusal was violence, even death). The fact that Dr. Nolte even feels comfortable in posting such a meme is troubling.
Dr. Nolte is a well-educated man who holds a position of great responsibility. Leaders should be held to a higher standard. Perception is everything. I do not know what is in Dr. Nolte’s heart nor do I pretend to understand his logic or where his reasoning springs from in regards to his choice.
Though many educators, administrators and members of the community seem to stand in support of Dr. Nolte, I’m completely disappointed that he has not been asked by the school board to tender his resignation. This choice he made is dangerous. Despite his years of service to our school system, this is the dawning of a new day. We need a superintendent who will evaluate the weight of their thoughts and opinions before freely posting on social media.
The Haywood County School Board needs new blood. We need a leader who understands diversity, encourages Black history education, and isn’t afraid to develop a comprehensive training and education program on race in America.
Some say Dr. Nolte has a right to free speech. He absolutely does. However, free speech does not come without consequences. If we’re to allow Dr. Nolte’s indiscretion, what example are we teaching our children? Our community? I always heard repentance is for people who get caught.
Also, in his hollow “apology,” he points to the fact he had a Black friend once. This myth that proximity to blackness somehow immunizes him from doing racists things is absurd. It’s a short and weak denial of bigotry. A punchline in our conversations about racism. It’s a problem steeped in a number of factors such as a reluctance to have uncomfortable conversations about race and a failure to acknowledge racial differences. Dr. Nolte’s proclamation that he has a Black friend insists he doesn’t see color which in itself is a problem. Without having difficult, deep conversations with your friends of color about race, many white people have superficial relationships. There is a difference in having Black friends and having black acquaintances — one cannot have true comprehension of how race impacts a person of color’s daily life without striving to host uncomfortable discussions.
The Black friend narrative is similar to a slave owner speaking on how beloved he was by his African slaves. One assumes Dr. Nolte’s Black friend does not appreciate being the pawn in a manipulative face-save public relations narrative.
Martin Luther King Jr said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” I think we all can take note of Dr. King’s words. We all make mistakes in life. We can continue to learn and grow.
But please, stop using the Black friends defense.
Heather Hyatt Packer