Others say Carpentersville trustee's comment won't doom careeer

  • Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski

    Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski

Published: 4/8/2008 12:17 AM | Updated: 4/8/2008 8:42 AM

Political allies and adversaries of Carpentersville Trustee Linda Ramirez-Sliwinski say the first-term trustee's comment comparing children climbing trees to monkeys does not signal the immediate end of her political career.

The incident, colleagues and experts say, should serve as a lesson in political correctness and sensitivity.

Ramirez-Sliwinski was cited for disorderly conduct Saturday when her black neighbors complained the trustee made a racist comment in saying, "This is not a tree for them to be climbing in like monkeys."

Ramirez-Sliwinski acknowledges the simile was a mistake but says the neighbors have blown it out of proportion.

"It was not deliberate and it was not a racial slur," Ramirez-Sliwinski said Monday. "It was a comment I use on my own grandchildren and my own children. I was not aware that it was a racial term until after I had said it."

Georgia Lockett, who filed the police complaint because one of her kids was in the tree, declined comment Monday.

Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago, said likening blacks to monkeys "conjures up every bad image," because the word was used for centuries to demonize blacks and justify their mistreatment.

"I suppose that most of us can understand that there has been a horrible history of comparing African-Americans to animals -- and I suppose to monkeys in particular -- and it's horrific to think that someone would use that in public discourse today," Yohnka said.

Trustee Judy Sigwalt, a frequent political foe, said she would not ask Ramirez-Sliwinski to step down.

"I will leave that decision up to her," Sigwalt said. "But we are elected officials and need to set an example. We need to be diplomatic and watch what we say and do."

Other trustees say Ramirez-Sliwinski's words were not racially charged -- just a case of sticking her foot in her mouth.

"What she said was wrong, Trustee Ed Ritter said. "But who of us hasn't said something wrong and immediately wished we could take it back after we said it?"

Though people likely will demand Ramirez-Sliwinski's resignation at the April 15 village board meeting, Village President Bill Sarto said the request would be unwarranted.

"What she said may have been politically incorrect, but I don't see that as a violation of any law," Sarto said.

Under different circumstances, calling people monkeys wouldn't have been a big deal, said Rob Currie, a psychology professor at Judson University in Elgin.

But because the targets of the remark are black, it could be interpreted as racist since blacks have historically been the victims of prejudice and discrimination, even if the comment wasn't meant in that way, he said.

"If I broke my foot and it's really painful and if you step on my foot, maybe it's an accident or it's on purpose, but you stepped on my foot," Currie said.

In these times, it should be all about respecting people's differences and staying away from words that could set them off, said Tim Johnson, a sociology professor at Judson University.

"You have to understand what it means to people and on the other hand, you have to understand what the person meant," Johnson said. "There are some words that are very emotional and tied with the history."

But Sarto said the situation was taken out of perspective.

"It wasn't like she went up to anyone on the street corner and called them a monkey," Sarto said. "There was some context here and you have to keep it within that context."