Opinion: Commentary: Political Correctness Impeding Diversity

Opinion: Commentary: Political Correctness Impeding Diversity

If we cannot have conversations without labeling opposing views as bigoted or prejudiced, how can we expect to move forward as a democratic society?

At the July 29 Library Board of Trustees meeting, my appointee Phil Rosenthal made a statement about the need for more diverse views to be represented in the library catalog’s highlighted books. He and other trustees pointed out that there is no review process for choosing recommended reads for the library catalog and that has led to an unbalanced selection. Since that meeting I have become very concerned by how partisan interests have defamed Mr. Rosenthal, a long-standing public servant, and are calling for his and others’ opposing viewpoints to be removed and silenced. In addition to sharing my thoughts with you below, I would encourage you to view the entirety of Mr. Rosenthal’s statement and the Board discussion that follows here beginning around the 1:36:40 mark.

I have always believed that open honest discussion gets us to better answers. It was this open honest discussion on the need for diversity on one of the library’s landing pages that Phil Rosenthal was attempting to generate. While by his own admission he did not use what some people would consider “politically correct” language, the words he spoke were by no means racist, hate filled or discriminatory. Racism is a very serious issue that we need to stand against and should take even more seriously when it is trivialized as a political tool with unfounded accusations. Mr. Rosenthal was simply calling for balance and diversity of thought. Library Board Trustee Darren Ewing echoed the need for diversity on the web page stating: “To Phil’s point, this is a catalog homepage, it is completely one sided…If you go on the catalog homepage, it is social justice. There's nothing wrong with social justice, but you got to put it within a framework." In fact, another trustee said, “I have a very personal and selfish interest in pursuing racial justice…but I also have some concerns that all sides aren’t being heard, not necessarily just in the library, but in general in the national debate.”

MR. ROSENTHAL has become the target of a sustained effort by an outside advocacy group that is seeking to become relevant by defaming the character of a long-term community activist and philanthropist who has worked to better the lives of countless individuals. Phil is deeply committed to helping our area’s low-income families in their struggles to find adequate housing and food, caring for their children, and improving the lives of residents on the Route 1 corridor who continue to suffer from high crime rates, poverty, and a lack of meaningful job opportunities. Mr. Rosenthal has been recognized with Good Shepherd Housing’s Philanthropy Award and the Fairfax County Federation of Civic Association’s Citation of Merit, among others. In addition to the Library Board, he currently serves on the Fairfax County Community Action Advisory Board, Fairfax County A. Heath Onthank Advisory Committee, Good Shepherd Housing and is a Community Board Member for GMU Hillel, the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. Yet this outside advocacy group claims Mr. Rosenthal is anti-Semitic?

For Chairman McKay to call for the removal of Mr. Rosenthal under the guise of One Fairfax is just as outrageous and unfounded. It is unfortunate that those who preach diversity are intolerant of diversity of opinion. Chairman McKay has gone as far as asking the County Attorney’s office to find options for removing Mr. Rosenthal before his appointed term is up. The use of the One Fairfax policy to try to remove appointees that Chairman McKay disagrees with is a dangerous, undemocratic precedent and a slippery slope. This is even more dangerous given nothing Mr. Rosenthal said was racist, hate filled or discriminatory, but instead a poorly articulated request for a presentation of diverse viewpoints.

My office has been contacted by many residents in support of Mr. Rosenthal’s statement that there needs to be balance, diversity of opinion, and a review process for library catalog highlights. As an appointee, he represents and addresses their concerns. One Library Board Trustee who agreed with the need for balance already has resigned in the wake of calls for his resignation. I have urged Phil Rosenthal to make the much more difficult decision and to stay on the Library Board to continue to serve and represent the citizens of the county that want diversity of opinion and open, honest discussion.

My hope is that we learn from this and work to engage true diversity of views in our community, not just those we agree with. As a businessman, I wholeheartedly believe that we should not just have career politicians serving our County, we need people from every background. We should be encouraging more people to get involved in the local democratic process, not silencing, and out casting them when they don’t use the right terminology. A good man and public servant has been unjustly defamed and maligned. If we cannot have conversations without labeling opposing views as bigoted or prejudiced, how can we expect to move forward as a democratic society? We need to be more charitable to our neighbors as we try to understand their views without rushing to judgment.

THE PUBLIC LIBRARY is one of the most important institutions in our democracy. For that reason, it is especially important that it offers a balance of viewpoints to remain neutral and nonpartisan in representing many ideologies, religions, ethnicities, and stories. I hope to see the Library Board of Trustees work to more holistically encourage diversity of thought for readers in Fairfax County, but given recent events, I am concerned with their ability to do so apart from partisan interests.

If you are interested in providing feedback to the Library Board on this issue, you can find contact information for your district’s trustee here.

--The Herrity Report, Sept. 2, 2020