Use of common racial slur for Amsterdam by incoming business owner leads to calls for change

The Amsterdam Pedestrian Bridge across Mohawk River in Amsterdam on Feb. 1, 2019. Amsterdam is fighting to change the abundant use of a racially insensitive moniker for the city. 

The Amsterdam Pedestrian Bridge across Mohawk River in Amsterdam on Feb. 1, 2019. Amsterdam is fighting to change the abundant use of a racially insensitive moniker for the city. 

AMSTERDAM — The use of a derogatory nickname for Amsterdam by an incoming business owner on social media sparked outrage over use of the racial slur to refer to the city and calls to finally end the common use of offensive terms for the community.

Corwin Hendy, who identifies himself as Elijah Hendy on social media, had his plans to open a nightclub at 32 E. Main St. approved by the Amsterdam Planning Commission on Wednesday.

Before the meeting, Hendy of Ravena asked friends in a post on Facebook to say a prayer regarding his plans for the nightclub in Amsterdam.

However, he referred to the city in the post as “Amsterrico.”

Screenshots of the post on Hendy’s private Facebook page were shared on social media on Thursday and Friday drawing backlash from community members who largely called out the term as derogatory in comments on the Rebuilding Amsterdam page.

Some commenters expressed surprise that the term they commonly heard used in place of the city’s name was offensive, comparing it to nicknames frequently used for enclaves that grew throughout Amsterdam around World War II.

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Hendy apologized for using the term to refer to the city and acknowledged the harm its use caused over Facebook on Friday.

“I would like to truly apologize for the name calling of the city of Amsterdam, NY I meant no disrespect or did I mean this in any racial way,” Hendy stated. “This won’t ever be something I have to be warned about.”

The post did not address why he initially used the term. Hendy did not return multiple calls seeking comment for this story.

Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti said the post from the incoming business owner was upsetting.

“It’s a very hurtful term for our city,” Cinquanti said. “I consider ourselves lucky to have the community we have and the diversity we have.”

Cinquanti plans to schedule a meeting with Hendy to explain why the term’s use is unacceptable in the city where 31.1% of residents identify as Latino or Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.

“I’m hoping that he understands that what he’s done is not acceptable and that from this point forward he works to show that he does respect everyone and that he is going to have a business that reflects what our city is all about,” Cinquanti said.

The mayor, who takes pride in his Italian heritage, acknowledged the common use of racial slurs in the past to refer to various areas of the city that were predominantly populated by immigrants from certain countries. It’s time to move on from those practices, he said.

“It has happened before, but it’s never right,” Cinquanti said.

Fourth Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula agreed that use of the derogatory term for the city must end.

“It’s definitely a racial slur and it shouldn’t be used in any context. I don’t use it,” Gomula said. “When someone says that I correct them.”

Gomula, who identifies as White, pointed to Amsterdam as a melting pot where community members take pride in their heritage. The 4th Ward is still sometimes referred to derogatorily due to the heavily Polish population that settled there around WWII, according to Gomula, who is of Polish descent.

“It’s something that has always been in our society and Amsterdam. Just because it’s always done doesn’t mean it’s right,” Gomula said.

John Sumpter, director of youth outreach at Creative Connections Clubhouse, is hoping the attention the derogatory term for the city has gotten on social media will lead to positive change.

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“Going forward in our community we know that we have issues with that word,” Sumpter said. “The more we bring awareness to it, the less it will be an issue.”

Sumpter, who identifies as Black and Irish, believes Hendy’s apology was sincere and that he didn’t realize what the term means to Amsterdam residents.

“I don’t think he meant any harm, but that now he knows how residents feel,” Sumpter said. “Now that he is enlightened in the situation, I think we move forward from it.”

Even some Amsterdam residents don’t realize how hurtful the racial slur for the city can be, Sumpter said.

“It’s a negative nickname, but some people don’t think it is,” Sumpter said. “If you’re Hispanic you might look at it as a bigger deal compared to if you’re not and sometimes we don’t know the harm that is done to individuals when it affects them from a community standpoint.”

The term is one of many racist and offensive words that are commonly used, according to Sumpter, who hopes the social media gaffe will lead to a vital community dialogue.

“It’s something we need to change,” Sumpter said. “It’s something we should talk about in our community.”

Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.

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