Saturday, March 8, 2014

Of "Carpetbaggers" and Coded Language

The term "carpetbagger" recently has been used here in Plainfield by an appointed councilwoman to denigrate the hiring of individuals who reside outside the city boundaries of Plainfield and yet who work here, as if they are not entitled to have a job in our city if they are qualified. I have heard her use this word several times in public statements. See Plainfield Today's post on this here.

Historically, the word was used in the aftermath of the Civil War to define Northerners who went South during the Reconstruction era to profit from the rebuilding efforts and to expose them as individuals who were out to exploit a community for economic gain--it connotes exploitation, greed, opportunism, and rapaciousness. The other day, this code word was used yet again by someone who, herself, "carpetbagged" an education career in another city and county and who was paid from the tax base of that city. In terms of describing our city employees, I view this word, "carpetbagger," as a deliberate and inaccurate use of the term. Perhaps someone ought to pull her coat about it.

Are the young Plainfielders who work at the Watchung Square Mall carpetbaggers? The Plainfielders who used to work at Muhlenberg but who were forced to find jobs at other hospitals in the state because of the closure of our local hospital--are they carpetbaggers? 

I work in Newark, as a professor at Essex County College--am I a carpetbagger? Are the county workers who commute to Elizabeth carpetbaggers? All the other residents who live in Plainfield but commute to jobs in neighboring towns, in New York City, and elsewhere--are they, too, carpetbaggers in those communities? You see what I am getting at.

To make foolish and loaded statements about the motives of individuals who work in our city government and yet who may live in other towns when one's own career was based in another city and was paid from the tax base of that city is the height of hypocrisy. 

The hypocrisy continues when, at the same time, a "pass" is given to a local individual (her friend, Malcolm Dunn) who engineered a more than $1 million dollar gift from the PMUA ratepayers to two retired executives in a backroom deal that forced furloughs of front-line workers and others. If we examine the earlier definition I provided of "carpetbagger"--one who exploits the community for economic gain, one whose motives are driven by greed, opportunism, and rapaciousness--in the context of this backroom deal, um...never mind. 

What I really see here is a smokescreen for a peculiar sort of nativism (which we see, on a national scale, directed toward President Obama by the right wing) that has long been a part of American culture. Nativism (and its close cousins, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and racism) opposes by its very nature the diversity, growth, and continued development of a city like Plainfield, just as it fanned the flames of national division in the past. 

We need to reject this type of thinking in our city. We need to reject the political motivations of individuals who embrace the past, with its corruption, cronyism, and stagnation. We need to think about, and plan for, the FUTURE!



Anonymous said...

Humm. Thank you for the information. I realize I recently used carpetbagger incorrectly. I think what I meant was Trojan Horse, or interloper. I will be more careful in future and pass this on.
I agree that we must look outside out city limits for great people to work here. Just as great people who live here have great jobs in other communities.
Keep informing us

Bob said...

Thank you, Rebecca. I agree that some on the City Council have been using inflammatory language to further their agenda and that of their friends and political allies and not necessary the people of Plainfield. That is why I will be working for anyone who is not on the party line who wants to work for Plainfield and not political connections or their own selfish interests.

Dottie Gutenkauf said...

Gee, I guess I'm a "carpetbagger" too--only been here for 31 years!