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Racism in York County: 'We have to be honest'

David Weissman
Councilman Shawn Mauck speaks during the West York Borough Council meeting in West York Borough, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016. The borough would later accept Mayor Charles Wasko's resignation. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In hindsight, West York Mayor Shawn Mauck wishes he had just used the term "n-word."

At a borough council meeting Monday, the mayor was describing conversations he's had with families, including one woman who told him other residents have called her children "n------" and worse.

At his use of the full slur, state Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City, stood up and walked out of the meeting. Mauck said he tried to reach out to her after the meeting to apologize, but he couldn't get hold of her.

State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Hill-Evans, who was at the meeting to deliver a presentation, has not responded to multiple requests for comment since Tuesday.

Bronley Martin, a spokesman in Hill-Evans' office, said Wednesday he had not spoken with Hill-Evans about the meeting and could not offer comment.

Although Mauck now wishes he had not used the word, he said he did so because he feels elected officials are not doing enough to combat racism and "pretending it doesn't exist won't change anything."

"I quoted what was said," Mauck said. "It's been going on in West York for many years ... and I want people to understand we have a problem and get it fixed."

Brian Wilson, vice president of West York council, said he was shocked and unprepared for Mauck's use of the word, but he doesn't think the mayor intended to hurt anyone's feelings. He agreed Mauck could have used a different word with the same effect.

Some community activists actively fighting for racial equality agree, saying Wednesday they had no issue with Mauck's usage of the word.

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Carla Christopher, equity coordinator at the York County School of Technology, said too many residents continue to deny racial prejudice ever occurs in York County.

"Historically, we've been uncomfortable even talking about it because we want to paint York out as a happy place," she said. "But we have to draw the line at pretending problems don't exist."

Carla Christopher will become the equity coordinator at York County School of Technology on Feb. 20. It's newly created position.

Christopher said if Mauck had used the term "n-word," it would've just softened the impact.

"When people are getting insulted, they're getting called n------, not n-words," she said. "We're talking about full-frontal verbal assault; hatred is still happening, and we have to be honest about it."

Erec Smith, a York College rhetoric professor and member of the YWCA Racial Justice Committee, said he saw nothing wrong with Mauck's usage of the word.

Using it in the context of describing an incident of racial prejudice isn't the same as using it to insult somebody, he said.

"If we can't handle that, we're not going to get very far," Smith said.

Smith said he's upset the incident has received widespread attention because it distracts from what Mauck is trying to accomplish, and he thinks Hill-Evans should explain why she left.

Dr. Erec Smith, assistant professor of rhetoric and composition, teaches a class at York College of Pennsylvania, Thursday, October 6, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

Christopher agreed that Mauck is an important ally, but she said she understands certain words can be triggering for people and will never get angry at someone for practicing self-care.

Mauck said the woman he was describing isn't the only resident who has reached out to him about being targeted with racial slurs. One man, who has been living in West York for 20 years, is considering moving because of discrimination, the mayor said.

Previously the borough council president, Mauck was sworn in as mayor last October to replace former mayor Charles Wasko.

Wasko resigned amidst criticism regarding several of his Facebook posts, including two comparing President Barack Obama and his family to apes, and one that suggested Obama should be hanged with a noose. Another post featured a fictional black person saying that socialism is "when the white folks work every day so we can get all our governmental entitlement stuff for free."

Mauck is running unopposed for mayor this year.

The council recently approved a temporary lease agreement for the York City Human Relations Commission to move its office into the West York borough building.

Mauck said the commission, which is responsible for investigating discrimination, will be a great asset to the community.

West York has a lot of work to do regarding acceptance, and the community could use all the help it can get, including from Hill-Evans, Mauck said.

Mauck added that Hill-Evans is an excellent woman, and he never intended to be disrespectful.

— Reach David Weissman at dweissman@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @DispatchDavid.