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The House Divided

Dear Editor: 

I read Milan Taylor’s thoughtful letter in last week’s Wave with great interest and, ultimately, great disappointment. By force-fitting racial animus into the Edgemere discussion, he is wrong on the facts, wrong on the mechanics of a true community and wrong on the role of race in civic discussions. 

While we agree the existing culture –including race– is an important factor to discuss when it comes to community redevelopment, Mr. Taylor presents us with a false choice of two extremes: Center the conversation on race (his perspective) or allow others to suppress race from the conversation, which neither The Wave nor the people cited in its editorial have done. 

Let’s be clear on the facts here: The Wave did not say race is a taboo subject; it said Mr. Taylor’s assertion that people oppose the Peninsula Hospital Site Redevelopment (PHSR) plan because they don’t want “too many black and brown folks” in Rockaway was unfounded and divisive. If you have facts that demonstrate racist motivations by the community leaders who expressed concerns about the developer’s plan, put them on the table. Otherwise, The Wave’s characterization is accurate. 

Does that mean we shouldn’t talk about race? Of course not. While I disagree that race is “half of the problem,” it is salient. Indeed, one could argue the proposed PHSR plan reinforces racism since it will trap the largely black population of these towers (and their children) in almost inescapable poverty. Projects like this enrich the developer and enable politicians to claim false victories; they also worsen the structural disadvantages poor people (often black, more often Hispanic or Asian, sometimes white) struggle to overcome. 

All New Yorkers have a stake in fixing the system. Mr. Taylor makes the case that only people from Edgemere should be involved in the discussion about the PHSR. Local voices rightly carry a lot of weight in Rockaway, as is evidenced by the way Community Board 14 members determine their votes. However, the 327 neighborhoods in the City aren’t fiefdoms. They are part of what Mayor Dinkins called a “gorgeous mosaic.” We need to work together, especially here in Rockaway where artificial divisions have diluted our unity and our power. 

Mr. Taylor makes an excellent point about the need for the voices of people who are “marginalized” to be heard. However, in a healthy community this is rarely an us-against-them proposition. Right here in Rockaway, history has proven that people from different neighborhoods can work together to make sure everyone has an equal seat at the table. If we work together, we can also use our collective brainpower to envision creative, proactive civic solutions and to promote them with one strong Rockaway voice. 

For too long our community has succumbed to divide-and-conquer tactics. When it comes to the Peninsula Hospital site, everyone in Rockaway wants a plan that will be beneficial to our community in the long run. However, if we divide ourselves or let politicians play us off each other, all of Rockaway will lose… none more so than the disadvantaged citizens the Rockaway Youth Task Force strives to serve.