After posting a contentious meme Sunday on his public Facebook page, Alderman Paul Clifford issued a public apology to be published in Wednesday’s Rutland Herald.
“Many of you have seen the controversial meme that I posted on Facebook or have seen the news article regarding the post,” Clifford wrote. “I am writing to apologize to anyone I may have offended, to explain my thoughts on the post and to disclose what I have learned from this event.”
The meme features a black-and-white photograph of a woman and three children, all with pale skin, dressed in dirty clothing, standing in a kitchen.
“White privilege: The ability to suffer life’s universal indignities without blaming another ethnic group,” the caption read.
In his apology, Clifford explained how the reactions to his post have been an educational experience, and he admitted to not previously knowing what the term “white privilege” actually means.
“I never intended to offend anyone by my post and I sincerely apologize to the people who were offended,” Clifford wrote. “My thoughts on the meme were to point out that many people who are white are not what I have always regarded as ‘privileged.’ Many are poor, struggling and lacking many of life’s basic necessities. ... I have learned that, to many, the term ‘white privilege’ does not mean what I have always believed it to mean — primarily economic privilege. It also means the difference between the way races have been treated in the not too distant past, and in some cases, the way many are still being treated.”
“He’s onto something, but he’s still not quite there,” said Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland Area chapter of the NAACP. “He needs to interact with more people to get him to a place of understanding. ... It’s concerning if he thinks it (white privilege) would be about mis-attribution. If this is how you view race, I’d be very concerned.”
Clifford wrote, “I have also learned that it is very difficult to understand the way African-American, Jewish or Indian people feel about their past (and sometimes current) oppression unless you have experienced that same oppression. I hope my apology is accepted, and I hope that someday soon we will all accept each other, on the same level, without regard to race, gender, religion or ethnic heritage. That is certainly what I intend to strive toward.”
“I think he’s coming from a place where he’s been told what he’s doing is not OK,” Moore said. “His reaction right now, his apology, is kind of a typical apology of someone who just wants it to be over with.”
Moore confirmed she had made contact with Clifford and that he mentioned setting up a time to talk more on racism and white privilege, but no date had yet been yet.
As it stands, though, Moore said acknowledging the post’s impact was a step toward a new beginning, if Clifford chose to continue his education.
“I believe that what he thinks he is doing is the right thing,” Moore said of Clifford’s apology. “He’s in the beginning stages, which is where he needs to be. This (apology) does not let you off the hook. This is barely the start to his understanding. ... My hope is that he will contact me very soon with dates so we can begin this work. ... It’s about the person behind the meme.”