Scott Tibbs
Open letter to the Bloomington City Council, 02-18-2003

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Commission's letter a shrill overreaction

An open letter to the Bloomington City Council and Mayor John Fernandez:

I am disappointed that the “Commission on the Status of Black Males”, an arm of City Government, would join the race baiting being perpetuated on the Indiana University campus in its February 18th letter to the Indiana Daily Student addressing a cartoon that some people find “offensive”. The Commission condemned IDS assistant Opinion Editor J.P. Benitez for his decision to run a political cartoon about affirmative action, a cartoon originally published in the Daily Aztec at San Diego State University.

The Commission’s “hope” that “journalism such as this does not discourage underrepresented people from seeking to attend Indiana University or from living in our community” is unwarranted. This is a shrill overreaction to a political cartoon. Have race relations deteriorated to the point that questioning policies giving benefits to someone on the basis of his or her race now sends the message that minorities are “unwanted”?

That city taxpayer dollars are spent on a commission that personally attacks a journalist for his choice of material to include on the opinion page is inexcusable. An opinion page is supposed to promote dialogue and make people think. The “Commission on the Status of Black Males” showed extreme disrespect for the principle of free speech by suggesting that the IDS Opinion Editor stifle controversial opinions.

Of course a political cartoon is not going to present issues in a deep, thoughtful manner. That is not its purpose: a political cartoon is supposed to make a point about a political or social issue in a simple, direct manner. What this cartoon did is ignite the debate over affirmative action on campus and produced some valuable debate on the topic, and thus has served its purpose.

Sadly, the letter authored by the “Commission on the Status of Black Males” not only failed to do anything positive for race relations in Bloomington and at IU, but has actually damaged them. Instead of attacking the campus newspaper and a minority student for a political cartoon that has offended some in the community, the Commission should instead seek to promote a dialogue on affirmative action, productively using this opportunity to explain its position on why the policy is needed in today’s society.

I call on all nine members of the City Council and the Mayor to publicly apologize to Mr. Benitez for the Commission’s actions, and to reiterate that the City Council and the Mayor support free speech and the free exchange of ideas, no matter how controversial those ideas may be.

Scott Tibbs