Thursday, August 24, 2017

Scottdale Refugees Pt. II: The Comments Section

I broke the cardinal rule of the Internet--never read the comments. As we all know, that goes nowhere fast, but in the case of the story of the refugee family leaving Scottdale, my curiosity got the better of me. Like I said, rookie mistake.

The good news is most of the comments on the article are, well, good, even if there are only three comments. But as Meatloaf said, two out of three ain't bad. But naturally, it's the third one that got my attention.

It speaks to the cesspool that is the Internet that initially, my reaction was, "Oh, that's not that bad," because honestly, yeah, it could be a lot worse. That said, "it could be a lot worse" doesn't mean this person should get a free pass for being ignorant.

This article is ridiculous. I've lived in Scottdale for 32 years, and I had no idea these women were here. I have never once seen them out and about in town, let alone heard anyone speak ill of them. I guess when you refuse to be a member of the society you live in and things don't go your way, you can just accuse the entire town of being racist.
This is infuriatingly stupid. Let's break it down.

First, the commenter is implying that because he's never seen or heard about this women, this whole story must be bullshit, but that's not how the world works. There are plenty of people out and about all around us we never interact with, even in the same small towns, and not knowing who someone is after an article like this is published doesn't make the article "ridiculous" or somehow untrue or misleading. Just because you didn't personally witness something doesn't mean it didn't happen, and in any other scenario, most of us would recognize that such an assertion is absurd.

But I think the most frustrating thing for me is the second half of the comment, and it's partly because this is such a common yet unfair criticism of refugees--that they're being troublesome, can't assimilate, and are crying discrimination because...I don't know, honestly, because these statements make no sense to me.

I think often, when people here complain about things like refugees who refuse "to be a member of the society you live in," they forget that refugees are coming from an entirely different country with an entirely different culture. We cannot and should not expect refugees to completely forget their cultures, traditions, and way of life in favor of our own, and at that, none of us have done that anyway. Take a look at your own family and their customs. Chances are, you hold on to certain things that are relics of your ancestors' culture. For example, my wedding is fast approaching, and we're incorporating plenty of my family's Polish heritage--we're doing a bridal dance with a polka and an apron to receive money from guests and we're playing the Polish version of "Happy Birthday," called "Sto Lat," for an uncle whose birthday falls on the wedding day. My grandfather used to use Polish/Hungarian words and phrases around the house. My aunts and uncles all polka. And yet, by some of these absurd standards, all of that might be considered "refusing to be a member of society." Refugees shouldn't be expected to shed every speck of their life before they came here. Instead, we should accept their differences, especially when they're not doing anyone any harm.

But even more troubling is the fact that this commenter either missed the entire point of the article or thinks this family is only speaking out for pity, which is unlikely. First, the issue was not that the family couldn't assimilate--and again, we need to rethink the expectations we put on refugee families--but rather that they were targeted for their background, in some cases based on misconceptions rather than fact. Being turned down for jobs and explicitly told it's because of where you're from isn't a result of your behavior, it's xenophobia, plain and simple.

This brings up another point that happened to come up on a Twitter account I follow recently, but it's a very strong belief I've had for a while now that I was glad to see repeated--it is not up to us to decide what is or is not racist, xenophobic, or discriminatory. I as a white woman brought up in a middle-class Catholic household did not have the same experience as, say, a woman of my same age who is black or Jewish or Muslim. It wouldn't be fair for me to look at someone experiences that I cannot relate to and never will and decide that their complaints are invalid. This commenter is being dismissive and callous, frankly, by suggesting this is all a reaction to "things not going their way." This family is speaking out about downright unacceptable treatment that drove them from a town in our community, and rather than take a step back and think about how they feel, what they must be going through, or how our own words and actions affect people, this person, and I'm sure others, are instead choosing to turn it back on the family and find a way to blame them. I suppose that's easier than owning up to one's own prejudices and acknowledging that there are some very mean, ugly people living in your town making life more difficult for someone else.

I'll end this post the same way I ended my previous post on this subject--by asking you all to be less judgmental of people of different religions and races than yours, especially when dealing with refugees, who are looking for safety and stability. Be good to each other. Be compassionate and kind. Give people a chance. We all have the opportunity every single day to make the world a little brighter and life a little easier for someone else, and there's not a single good reason why we shouldn't try. So do it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Refugees leave Scottdale

This is an old story now--it was originally published about a month ago--but now that I have a little time to sit down and examine the goings-on in the Nam, I want to talk about this.

In July, the Herald-Standard ran a story about Syrian refugees leaving Scottdale. It gets right to the point--"Discrimination stonewalled them from building a new life." The article goes on to detail how the family came here fleeing violence and couldn't find jobs due to discrimination, with some employers specifically stating they would not hire a Syrian and one going so far as to say, "We hate Muslims a lot here in America, so you should accept that." In school, their daughter experienced bullying, including having her coat stolen and being pushed down, while the school's principal didn't seem to do much about it.

Fayette County, I'm not going to sugarcoat this--we should be ashamed. We should be ashamed that when a family comes here looking for a new start, fleeing violence and destruction, that our response is to judge them because they don't look, sound, or worship like us and to prevent them for moving forward in life. For all the small-town conservative talk about God and Jesus, for all the signs in yards proudly displaying the Ten Commandments, we're choosing to insult, degrade, belittle, ignore, and we're refusing to lend a helping hand, all out of ignorance, nothing more. You can't give me a single good reason to treat a family so deplorably.

But for some of us, this isn't at all surprising. In fact, if you'd told me before there was a refugee family moving into Scottdale, I'd expect that this is what would happen but pray that I'd end up being wrong.

It's crucial to move past prejudice and preconceived notions and actually understand not just the issues Syria faces, but who these people trying to join our community actually are. That means not listening to fear-mongering talking points on TV but actually educating yourself on the refugee issue.

For example, according to World Visionfactcheck.org, and Global Ministries:


  • This is the largest refugee crisis of our time, with 5.1 Syrians having left the country as refugees and 6.3 million displaced within the country. Half of all affected are children, and most refugees are women and children.
  • Nongovernmental agencies place refugees within the U.S., typically based on family ties and employment.
  • Refugees are not welfare-dependent. The median household income for Syrian refugee families is $62,000, which is actually higher than the median income of U.S.-born households.
  • No Syrian refugee has ever been involved in a terrorist attack. Out of the general refugee population, fewer than 10 have been involved in terrorist attacks since 9/11.
  • ISIS has condemned refugees for leaving the country.
  • Refugees are put through a vetting process before they enter the country, which is more rigorous than procedures in place in Europe.
Take this information and learn from it. Be a better person. Don't judge people, and certainly don't hurl verbal abuse at them. If you witness someone being discriminatory, speak up. If you're in a position to help a refugee family, do so--consider volunteering your time and skills to HIAS Pennsylvania.

And to that family, I hope they find peace and acceptance. I hope they know that despite some horrible experiences with horrible people, they don't speak for everyone.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

One from the Vaults: Uniontown Divorce

Old newspapers can provide some of the greatest gems when it comes to strange, entertaining stories--and sometimes, maybe it's proof that things haven't changed too much after all.

Check out this story from a New York paper regarding an incident here in Republic.


First of all, how much do I love the use of the word "tootsles"?

Now, look, I'm a firm believer in the fact that part of the issue with the divorce rate today is too many people bail for stupid reasons--but cold feet, literally, is anything but trivial. I feel for the guy. Although I am often cold, my fiancé's feet are freezing, year-round. Ordinarily, I might side with the lady trying to warm her toesies, but there's nothing as uncomfortable and jarring as feeling an ice-cold foot brush against you, and frankly, if you're going to exhibit such monstrous behavior, you deserve to be kicked out of bed. Some might say it would be hyperbolic to call this "cruel and barbarous treatment," but I happen to disagree.

On top of that, she put her feet on his back? Really? I mean, feeling a frosty foot is bad enough against your own toasty foot or leg, but your back? Truly horrible.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Local native makes substantial donation to Meals on Wheels

It's been a while--how about some really awesome news?

Pittsburgh lawyer John Gismondi donated $100,000 to Meals on Wheels, inspired by his mother. Although he's currently based in Pittsburgh, he's originally from Fayette County.

You'll need a subscription to the Daily Courier for more, which I unfortunately do not have, so head over there for the full story.

Let's hope his philanthropy inspires other similar donations.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Black basketball player harassed with racist chants

I believe I said some time ago that my posts had become very, very infrequent due to lot interest on my part--keeping up with Fayette County's news is kind of tiring, and unfortunately, this blog started to feel more like a chore most days than something fun.

But leave it to Connellsville high-school students and their horrible racism to draw me out of retirement!

During "Hick Night" at Connellsville, which already means we're off to a great start, Connellsville high-school students shouted racist statements at visiting players from Uniontown.
The parents tell the Uniontown Herald Standard that Connellsville students yelled chants including "Build that wall!" and "Get them out of here!" at black Uniontown players.
Look, I'm not gonna sugarcoat it or spare anyone's feelings here--this is horrible, disgusting, and downright unacceptable. What bothers me the most is that "build that wall" was a prominent slogan during Trump's campaign dealing with building a wall along the US/Mexico border and here, it's been turned into a phrase meant to single out and target non-white people, and that's something I find very troubling. I had enough issues with the phrase and campaign promise to begin with, but to turn it into something to ostracize those of other races is even worse.

I have many, many reasons why I find President Trump disgusting, and this is one. But beyond that, my heart aches for people like those players and others around the country who have faced similar harassment between the election cycle and now who are being singled out and made to feel as though they are lesser than and don't belong. But Trump isn't the only problem--these behaviors are taught, and people need to take a close look at what attitudes and behaviors they're passing on to their children and what those children are putting out into the world. These teenagers and their parents both should be ashamed that this is the way they behave in public at a sporting event, which, despite competitiveness, should be a relatively lighthearted event where everyone can enjoy themselves.

Fortunately, the students were told how their actions could be perceived, but frankly, if this happens again, students need to face some sort of punishment.

And fellow white people? You're not better than anyone because of the color of your skin, so shut up.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Uniontown featured in NPR post-election segment

One of my regrets now that we're in the aftermath of the election is the fact that I didn't post more during the election, particularly regarding campaign promises and local hopes. I don't think I would've swayed people one way or the other, necessarily, but I like to think maybe people would've at least considered what I had to say.

See, the thing is, a lot of people around here seem to think Trump is their solution and salvation, the key to turning what's long been a struggling county around and back to what is was in its prime. And I think those people are wrong. I think that for a variety of reasons I won't get into today.

For now, NPR has run a story on the expectations people have of a Trump presidency, particularly in little ol' Uniontown. One of the things they mention is that for the first time in 20 years, Pennsylvania went red and voted Republican, something that seemed to surprise pundits and I suspect the politicians themselves--but it didn't surprise me, and I can't imagine it surprised many other residents, either. The flip from blue to red has been brewing a long while. I've mentioned on this blog in the past that I noticed during Obama's first run in 2008 many more yards had McCain signs than Obama, and having spent my whole life living here, I was fairly confident that had a hell of a lot more to do with skin color than it did policy. Even other Democrats bought into the unfounded rumors that Obama was born in Africa and his father was a terrorist.

Similarly, in my new location of nearby Washington and all the way down 40 to Uniontown, Trump signs dominated. While Fayette and Washington counties certainly aren't representative of the entire state, they seemed to reflect the attitudes and opinions of a lot of other people in the state, and while pundits seemed to speak of Pennsylvania as though it were a guaranteed blue state, I was skeptical. Like I said, in the end, we went red, and I wasn't surprised in the slightest. I wasn't alone, either.

Community members of all political persuasions came out for the event including Fayette County Democratic Party Chairman Jim Davis. 
In the spring, Davis was trying to raise alarm bells to his party. He told NPR that he was concerned about the large Republican turnout in the Pennsylvania primary and he that he was seeing Democrats in his country switch their party registration so they could vote for Trump in the general election. 
The writing was on the wall. 
"We didn't want to see it," Davis says. "We didn't want to accept it but ... it was obvious." 

Part of that has to do with the desire to see the coal industry make a comeback, and it's hard to argue with people who are feeling the impact of that loss. There's even a post back lurking in the archives of this blog dedicated to the impact the loss of the industry had on the area. It's pretty evident, really. The thing is, I think these hopes that Trump is going to bring it back are unrealistic. For one, I think he's barely aware of the county's existence, and on top of that--and this is one of the many reasons I couldn't vote for him--he doesn't seem to have a true understanding of how to fix our problems. The best example of this is evident in the fact that he promised to help both the coal and natural-gas industries, both of which have business in Fayette County. But the problem is the two compete with each other, making it impossible to truly help both. In the end, it'll be one or the other.

As much as I understand why people are holding on to the hope that coal will be saved, maybe it's time for Fayette County to move on. Maybe it's time for us to take a look at what else we have to offer and how we can rebuild our economy in another way. Take Pittsburgh, for example, which is becoming known more and more for sectors like technology and medicine. Even a look at the Waterfront will show you how the city is moved past its steel history--the area now boasts shopping, dining, and even entertainment, with places like Dave & Busters or the Improv comedy club, plus the Carnegie library/music venue up the hill. That's what we need to strive for--not a revival of an industry that truly doesn't seem like it's coming back or a president-elect full of empty promises, but rather an alternative to pick us back up again.

In the NPR article, Davis says something similar:

Davis believes the Democratic Party has to reinvent what they stand for in order to win back blue-collar voters and stop putting social issues at the forefront of the party. Democrats, he says, have to start talking about things like how to bring decent jobs into places like Fayette County. 
"Not a job that pays $8 an hour with no benefits, but a job that can pay a reasonable wage with benefits that a man can raise his family, can hopefully buy a house and send his children off to college, maybe state school, but college," Davis says. "That's the kind of thing we've got to start talking about."

Monday, October 31, 2016

Fayette County gets mention in Funny or Die video

First of all, if you're not familiar with comedian Keegan-Michael Key, you should really change that. I recommend starting here.



More recently, Key, a Penn State alumnus, did a video for Funny or Die encouraging Pennsylvanians to get out and vote--and I encourage you, too! But more importantly, the video references our own Fayettenam, including specific mentions of Connellsville and Bud Murphy's. And while our registration deadline may have passed and this video is now a little outdated, it's still pretty funny and worth the watch.