Today I was able to read the HamptonRoads.com piece about Jesse Scaccia, his “off-color” poem, and the reaction of different City Council members. Not surprisingly, some took offense, namely Vice Mayer Anthony L. Burfoot who criticized the poem for its colorful expressions regarding race and sexuality in Norfolk. Far be it for me to presume to know the motives of Burfoot’s reaction, but for the sake of this specific write up, I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Let us believe that he was genuinely concerned about what someone like Jesse Scaccia might do if he is indeed elected into any political position. And now..let us respond…
Anyone who is at all familiar with Scaccia can not for one second entertain the idea (however one chooses to interpret his poem) that his views on race and sexuality are at all problematic, either as a citizen or as an elected official. One doesn’t need to go any further than Jesse’s own words, as stated on his campaign website–
“I don’t believe there’s a black part of town and a white part of town. I don’t believe there’s the nice neighborhoods by the water and the inland ghettos that need to be avoided. I don’t believe in Navy vs. civilian, suit vs. punk, GLBT vs. straight, Norfolk native vs. transplant. None of that. We are one city. We are Norfolk. And we will be whatever we will ourselves to be.”
Jesse’s vision of Norfolk is one that seeks to unify the community, and a discussion with him at any length with show that he passionately believes in what he says.
Although, I admit, I am speaking subjectively. Let’s take a moment and consider the poem itself and even ignore the disclaimer which informed readers of the context. Any reading of the poem will suggest that is about an individual who was changed for the better by Norfolk. The poem, from the perspective of a stubborn northerner, tells the story of an individual awakening to the realization that his preconceived notions are way off. His views of redneck whites and back country blacks, immigrants and homosexuals are certainly problematic and entirely wrong. The obstinate and thoroughly misguided northerner was awakened to a new potential by the city of Norfolk. His stereotypes were shattered. If a reader takes away anything from the poem, he would take away the fact that to experience Norfolk can be (at the risk of sounding dramatic) a life changing and world-view altering happening. Burfoot’s reaction stinks of political posturing because it so unbelievably dismissive of the meaning of the poem.
Lastly, we can’t neglect what Burfoot seemingly ignores. While I am not surprised that the Vice Mayor chooses to see potential Council member Jesse Scaccia as the writer of the poem, it must be remembered that it was a poem written in 2008 by a grad school student named Jesse who grew up in Connecticut and spent his 20’s traversing the country. His poem expressed the destruction of stereotypes, not the stubborn adherence to them. There is much said about the apathy of youth in relation to local and national politics. I believe that it can be proportionately related to the degree of inauthenticity of the ambitious politicians the youth has to pick to from. To that point, this poem certainly does expose Scaccia–it reveals a character of authenticity. It exposes his humanity and involvement in the arts. It exposes his growth and willingness to change. A child will relate more so to an adult who is proud he was a kid, than an adult who merely admits to it. If Burfoot wishes to criticize the poem publicly, then he wishes to simultaneously display a lack of faith in the community. If he assumes that kids and adults are unable to think for themselves, and interpret this poem thoughtfully and understand it as art, then he assumes to think for us all. Burfoot is being wonderfully political, while this poem reveals Scaccia as *gasp!!* a vulnerable human being.