New Civil Rights Unit Shows 'Value of Inclusion, Safety, Equity'

Dec 15, 2017

N.H. Statehouse
Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR

  Gov. Chris Sununu just made two announcements on equity issues at the state level. The state Department of Justice is launching a new civil rights unit. And the governor is forming a new advisory council on diversity and inclusion.

 

Peter Biello, host of All Things Considered, speaks with Andrew Smith, who will be involved in the new state efforts. Smith works in the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. He works with groups in New Hampshire after racial incidents occur.

 

Smith tells NHPR, "It sends a clear message that the leadership of our state sees the value of inclusion, safety, equity, and peace for everyone, particularly in this political climate."

Governor Sununu joined Attorney General Gordon MacDonald on Thursday to launch the new Civil Rights Unit within the New Hampshire Department of Justice. The initiative comes after some racist incidents around the state, including at the University of New Hampshire. The American Civil Liberties Union of N.H. applauded the new efforts.

(This transcript was lightly edited.)

So first how significant are these two new initiatives announced by the governor today?

They are very significant to the extent that we have never had organizations of this type in the state of New Hampshire before. And it sends a clear message that the leadership of our state sees the value of inclusion, safety, equity, and peace for everyone particularly in this political climate.

And at the press conference this morning we heard that the state had completed its investigation into an alleged attack on a boy in Claremont this summer. This is the case involving the young biracial boy. His family says local teens tried to lynch him. Have you worked with people in Claremont?

I've had conversations with people there. And because it's an ongoing investigation as stated by the attorney general we really don't want to make further comments on it now because it's an open case.

So you're a member of this new Governor's Commission on diversity and inclusion. What exactly is your role in the commission?

Well that will be depend on him depending upon what they asked me to do because I have a variety of consulting capabilities and contributions thus far here in the state. There is a formula of addressing these issues through leadership in a positive manner so that the information provided is fair and equitable to all parties. And many times when these types of initiatives first surfaced people think it's a zero sum game meaning that in order for this to be applied it's at the expense of a certain group of people or that in order to address a subject like diversity inclusion it is at the expense of the white male population. And my history and success has been a function of being equitable and fair in providing the information that everyone needs to understand in order to be part of a culture or an environment where everyone feels valued respected and appreciated.

So what does the state need to do to sort of make the climate more respectful and feel safer for people of any background?

Well there's a variety of things that they will need to do. But before anything can be done we need to get a perspective of not just that of those in a leadership capacity different organizations have different needs and priorities around the subject. Some groups have done some educational pieces, some have not. Some groups see the value of being more inclusive and some do not. So we have to look at each institution separately and get an understanding from their leadership in terms of what they see as their needs to address diversity or to create an environment where people feel valued and included.

And how about on the individual level. What can someone listening to this right now do to create that kind of respectful climate?

There's a variety of things that they can do on their own in terms of just understanding where they are in terms of what their preferences are and do they see themselves as being inclusive or not. There's a lot of history around our country around our state around our institutions that people have bought into that may not necessarily apply in the times that we're in. I mean the classic one is Columbus discovered America. I mean it's pretty clear by a lot of information that he didn't discover America. And obviously there were people here in the Americas when he landed in the Caribbean but yet people say he quote discovered unquote America. And he also said the world was flat. Well I would submit to you that the person that built the Santa Maria his largest ship when they launched it to make sure it was safe for him to take. Also knew that the world was not flat because they saw that ship sail off into the distance and disappear and come back as they were doing a test run. And I could go on and on. But the point is that there are people who are so invested emotionally and the fact that they believe that he discovered America and a lot of things have happened in our culture and country as a result of that that have created a celebration that for those who are indigenous people here find quite ironic because they were here and they helped people when they came here to survive here and the next thing you know they're kind of put on a reservation and in many ways cases are not respected and understood as we sit here.

So it seems like the overlying theme or the underlying theme for example there was people should know their history correct.

Exactly. That's really the heart of the matter. And so when you're not sure rather than to dig deeper into dig your heels and you know you have access to the Internet now you have access to information that will help you truly understand what's fact and what is not fact. And when somebody brings to your attention that your assumption is not correct rather than arguing with them why not do your own research and find out for yourself and then when you get new information how do you manage that new information. Do you still hold on to what you've always had or do you apply the new information as a basis of new thinking or a different point of view.

Well, Andrew Smith, thank you very much for speaking with me.  Andrew Smith is disproportionate minority contact coordinator at DHHS.