by Frances Edstrom
When I returned to Winona on Tuesday morning, someone pointed out a story about us in the pages of our competitor's paper.
For some reason, that paper is the only news medium in town that was informed of an upcoming meeting of the Winona Human Rights Commission at which the Winona Post would be discussed.
That commission, comprised of volunteers appointed by the mayor, acts as a watchdog group, and fortunately for Winona, traditionally has little in the way of major procedings.
In fact, this exclusive story goes on to say, no grievance was filed with the commission against the Winona Post, but they just decided to discuss it anyway. Apparently, there is no accuser, no accusation, and obviously, the non-accused (that's the Winona Post) wasn't even told there would be a discussion.
The non-matter under discussion is a football column written by John Edstrom for our annual football contest, in which he referred to Africans, that is players from Africa in the NFL, a racially mixed group. This has been construed by a few people, somehow, as a racial slur.
The mayor was one of those people, and he sent a letter to John in which he removed him from the city's merit board (a volunteer job) because of it. But when we questioned the mayor about what was wrong with the word African, he would not say that he thought it was a racial slur, but that it didn't reflect his values. (We didn't understand that, either.)
A kid who works for our competitor's newspaper and is also a student at Winona State didn't have any trouble calling us racist. Nor did some WSU professors, who have written letters. One left a phone message.
Unlike these people, the Winona Post does not make a habit of fostering racism. Nor does it write racist things. A few years ago, we had an episode similar to this one in which several letter writers, almost exclusively Caucasians, accused us of being racist because we used the term "Indian" instead of "Native American." That incident was amusing in that our reporter who wrote the offending word has a daughter who is of Indian heritage. In fact, I was told by a friend who is Indian and works for the Ho Chunk Nation that they prefer the term "Indian" to "Native American."
But at least in that case, an argument could be made that the words "Indian" and "Native American" are meant to describe the same group.
The word "African" is not synonymous with "African-American," which seems to be the "misunderstanding" on the part of the mayor in this case. In fact, the city employee who delivered the letter from the mayor said to John, "You didn't even call them ‘African-Americans.'"
Well, that's because we were not talking about African-Americans.
I am assembling clues in this rush to call us at the Winona Post racist.
I see a mayor who has been criticized in our paper lately, especially for (1) the city having raised taxes for an industrial park that magically turned into a retail park when the tax money was safely in the bank, and (2) now coming to the taxpayers to pay for infrastructure needed for a Wal-Mart Super Store which will certainly mean local retailers will be put out of business.
I see a competing newspaper which:
1. wholeheartedly backed the mayor and the city's new approach to retail
2. employs the kid who wrote the editorial in the WSU student paper in which he called John a racist
3. is the only news medium which even was informed that the Winona Human Rights Commission was going to discuss a football column because "some residents" asked them what they were going to do
The Winona Post and John and Fran Edstrom are, at times, a thorn in the side of Winona City government. Our job, as we see it, is to let the people know what their elected officials are doing. And we do a good job of it. That can cause friction.
Our other job is to be a champion for Winona and its businesses, to protect and promote Winona as a retail, commercial and cultural center. We do a good job of that, too. In fact, such a good job, perhaps, that our competition would rather look for ways to smear us than to compete head to head.
The Winona Post is not afraid to speak out, and we do it often. We are straightforward in our criticisms and in our praises. Our readers do not need an interpreter to read between the lines to find out what we are saying, because we say it loudly and clearly. The mayor and the Winona Daily News, through its employee, are trying to make it seem otherwise. Ask yourself why.