Conflict in the HRC: How personal opinions left some feeling attacked

The Human Relations Commission held a meeting which caused tension amongst some.

Gracie Balkema, Opinion Editor

The Human Relations Commission (HRC) focuses on reaching and including minority groups in Albany. It was formed in 2007, and is still active to this day. In fact, there was a meeting on 

Feb. 24, which was joined by the city council. The meeting was meant to redefine the HRC, and achieve inclusiveness in Albany. Instead, certain people left the meeting feeling attacked.

     In response to one of the questions about how the commission could better Albany, HRC member Miriam Cummins explained that for non-english speakers, the city website was challenging to maneuver, and they should consider a translation. Later, Councilor Marilyn Smith observed it could be translated into spanish. 

     When asked the same question, newly appointed councilor Matilda Novak displayed her opinion.

      “From my perspective, we’re all Americans. You’ve come to this country and you’re living here, and I’m not entirely sure why (Cummins) feels like we need to put stuff in Spanish,” Novak said. “We’re in America, and we do have a national language. I am not saying this to disvalue your own background, because I love mine!”

    Smith pointed out later that America has no national language.

     After the meeting was posted on Facebook, it wasn’t long before negativity surfaced. Several people, including Cummins, saw Novak’s comment as xenophobic, meaning having a dislike of or predjudice against people from other countries or who speak other languages. 

     While some people seemed to agree with that comparison, Councilor Smith did not.

“I believe that is stretching the definition of xenophobia,” Smith said.  

     “What you see, depends on what you’re looking for,” Novak said. “Sadly I believe there is a segment of the population that is looking to be offended.” 

     “I was very disappointed,” Cummins said. “Because she directed this question to me, even though this was supposed to be a meeting where we would feel safe to talk about the problems that we […] have experienced, yet in a way I felt attacked.”

     Novak might believe her comment was acceptable but there are a number of people who were opposed to her comment, including Mayor of Albany, Alex Johnson II.

      “Just because (Novak’s parents) made a choice, fine, other people don’t have to make the same choice,”Johnson said. “For us to dictate what a person can speak in public, that’s a bit fascist, that’s a bit dictatorial.” 

     The HRC is going to discuss these issues, and continue to re-define their commission on March 22nd.