MANCHESTER, N.H. – At the end of Monday night’s Board of School Committee (BOSC) meeting, Ward 6 BOSC member Ken Tassey took umbrage with a phrase used earlier this year during a Martin Luther King Jr. event held at Memorial High School.
The event was not a school function.
Prior to a reading of one of King’s speeches, the introduction used the term “melanin-challenged people” in reference to people with white skin, which Tassey said he found racist.
Ward 5 BOSC Member Jason Bonilla asked if he felt that this phrase was racist toward white people. Tassey replied that he felt this phrase was racist toward white people and that racism exists.
Although Tassey did not reference him by name, the phrase was used by NAACP Manchester Branch President James McKim during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event held by the MLK Coalition.
In a response provided after the meeting to Manchester Ink Link, McKim said that he understood why Tassey may feel uncomfortable with that phrase, but that the phrase is based in science and the terms “white,” “black,” “brown,” and “red,” in reference to skin color are social constructs created by the dominant people in society to at best categorize people and at worse oppress those with darker skin to make them sound worse.
“I am not sure what term Mr. Tassey actually wants us to use,” said McKim.
Tassey also expressed concern with a phrase earlier in the program from Reverend Jason Wells expressing that many of the ills of the world cannot be addressed without “radical distribution of political and economic power.”
During the meeting, he felt that both sets of comments were inappropriate for usage within a public school, with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig mentioning at the end of Tassey’s comments that this was not a school event, as the room where it took place was rented for the evening.
Talking with Manchester Ink Link after the meeting, Tassey felt that the comments were still inappropriate, and he had been struggling for months with the right words to use in response. He said that the issue could have been avoided if McKim did not reference the fact that non-African Americans were reading portions of King’s speech, and instead just referenced the quality of the speech itself.
“It’s alarming,” said Tassey.
Regarding Wells’ comments, McKim said he felt that the words that Tassey took umbrage with were at the core of the behavior that Jesus Christ taught others to follow, and was a core part of King’s message, such as in King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “The Other America” among other speeches from King.