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“Everyone Loves a Parade!,” a mural by Pierre Hardy, at the Church Street Marketplace in Burlington.

Voices / Viewpoint

‘It is what it is, but it ain’t what it seems!’

Public and commercial art should reflect the rich cultural history of Vermont

Curtiss Reed Jr., L.H.D. serves as executive director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity, where he has developed the Vermont African American Heritage Trail and has championed diversity and representation in the state’s tourism outreach advertising and promotions.

Brattleboro

When controversy surfaced within our family or in the neighborhood, Mama Bea, my great aunt, was fond of saying, “It is what it is, but it ain’t what it seems!”

When I first saw the “Everyone Loves a Parade!” mural on Burlington’s Church Street, my first response as a black man was, “Where are my people?” However, as I examined the mural in greater detail and saw the logos of area businesses, my thoughts shifted to “Oh, this is a piece of commercial art.”

As someone who is knowledgeable about Vermont’s African-American history and whose mission is to make Vermont an exceptional destination for all, particularly folks of color, my bifurcated afterthought was 1) maybe the artist or those commissioning the work were unaware of Vermont’s African-American history and 2) maybe the sponsors were unaware that folks of color are consumers and that we are more likely to become clients of businesses where our faces are reflected in their advertising.

On the one hand, unless there is clear evidence to the contrary, my default position tries not to attack people for not knowing what they do not know.

“It is what it is...”: White supremacy tries to suppress knowledge about Vermont’s black history.

“It is what it is...:” White supremacy has led many Vermont business owners to believe consumers of color are either nonexistent or not worth the advertising dollars.

On the other hand, because of my lived experience as a black man in a racialized society where my presence is undervalued, the sins of omission and misrepresentation evoke a powerful visceral negative response.

And sometimes that visceral response leads one to believe every White person without exception holds malicious intent.

In some instances, malicious intent is clearly present; however, experience has taught me that benign neglect borne from ignorance is the precipitating cause in the vast majority of cases. And it is my belief that “Everyone Loves a Parade!” falls into this latter category of benign neglect borne from ignorance.

* * *

Mama Bea would tap the false equivalence of malicious intent and benign neglect with “...but it ain’t what it seems.” She taught me how to distinguish between the two and would take me to task for not excoriating those with malicious intent as equally as she would take me to task for not educating those who fall into the category of benign neglect.

We work to position Burlington as the most desirable culturally diverse and international destination in northern New England. This objective will be advanced by public art and commercial art reflective of Vermont’s rich cultural history in general and Burlington’s distinctive history in particular.

The community discussion underway over public art in general, and the mural specifically, is an integral part of building an inclusive and economically vibrant destination for residents and visitors alike.

What do you think? Leave us a comment

Editor’s note: Our terms of service require you to use your real names. We will remove anonymous or pseudonymous comments that come to our attention. We rely on our readers’ personal integrity to stand behind what they say; please do not write anything to someone that you wouldn’t say to his or her face without your needing to wear a ski mask while saying it. Thanks for doing your part to make your responses forceful, thoughtful, provocative, and civil. We also consider your comments for the letters column in the print newspaper.

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Tamara Stenn
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Tamara Stenn (Brattleboro, Vermont, US) says...

Thanks for writing this Elayne. I was thinking the same thing myself. The silence we received from the hospital is quite deafening. Unfortunately we\'ve had to continue working with the hospital as other (minor) heath issues come up.

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Judith Skillman
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Judith Skillman (Newcastle, US) says...

Excellent and informative writing about the media and about the state of our nation. We must support the press speak truth to power, now more than ever before.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

We are also obliged to criticize the press when they merely echo the lies of the powerful. In this case, much of the press has taken a side, not just against the policies of the President, but against the election itself on behalf of the parties of war and Wall St. Just as the US has in the past agitated in other countries for coups against democratic outcomes they don’t like, much of the press, including this editorial, is now agitating for a coup here at home.

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Peter Ford
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Peter Ford (Dallas) says...

Nailed it - Thank you.

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TB Smith
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TB Smith (Ba, Oklahoma, US) says...

The divisiveness brought on by this shamefully poor excuse for a president has been once again, borne out by this article, and the responses to it .. his most devoted followers are the most gullible and easily swayed sheeple since the \"Kool-Aid party in Jonestown\" ... those who stand up the most fervently to this dictator \"wanabe\", will , inthe end, see him and the fellow purveyors of his garbage rhetoric like FOX News, Alex Jones, Breitbart, etc., crumble and be dumped like stale crackers (pardon the pun) .. we must impeach this tyrant before too much damage is done, either from within or outside our borders.

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

So it’s OK that access to outlets that simply recognize Trump as President is indeed being shut down? But isn’t that exactly what this editorial is against? Should outlets that cheered on Obama’s wars and love of Wall St have likewise been shut down? Only John Birch Society–inspired screeds against Trump indicate the “legitimate” press?

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Ruby Bode
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Ruby Bode (Westminster, Vermont, US) says...

TB Smith’s comment in apparent support of the us-vs-them tone of this editorial illustrates why so many people distrust so much of the press (although, again, it appears to be only pro-Trump and anti-imperialist outlets that are actually being shut down): They are promulgating hysterical claims about fascism, Russians, and “crackers” not in the interest of the people, but wholly on behalf of the neoliberal/neoconservative program of Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama to deny Trump the Presidency and even remove him from office – not democratically, but by coup if necessary. That makes the press rather anti-democratic and, indeed, against the people.

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Amelia Stone
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Amelia Stone (E Dummerston, Vermont, US) says...

Kudos to the Boston Globe for encouraging newspapers across the country to remind us all of the value of a free press, and to the Commons for hearing that call. The NYTimes article, A Free Press Needs You, concludes with the following: \"If you haven’t already, please subscribe to your local papers. Praise them when you think they’ve done a good job and criticize them when you think they could do better. We’re all in this together.\" Today I plan to subscribe.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #446 (Wednesday, February 14, 2018). This story appeared on page D1.

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