The racist threats made against Representative Kiah Morris and her family are reprehensible, unacceptable, and cowardly. Expressions of empathy and concern for Rep. Morris and her family are important responses but will not alone impact the individual and systemic racism that we continue to witness in our state.
There is a growing social climate that condones this kind of behavior. Taking action and speaking out are vital responses to an overt racist act such as this.
We are experiencing a daily decline in civility, especially in relation to internet communication. Vermont’s nonpartisan Joint Fiscal Committee has recently been attacked. Our Democratic gubernatorial candidate is receiving threats similar to those aimed at Rep. Morris.
Before his recent passing, one of Vermont’s most influential health-care policymakers, Con Hogan, wrote his last VPR commentary on the concept of returning to civility:
“We don’t meet face to face any more. And it’s easy to throw invective and insults through tweets. [...] We’re being thrown into the intense consuming force of the here and now [...] with little or no reference to the past, and even less concern for possible future consequences. This trend away from history and thoughtful perspective, in turn, undermines civility.”
Rather than focusing on the formal politeness that the word “civility” usually connotes, Hogan was spotlighting our collective tendency and willingness to turn away from lessons that we could — and should — have taken to heart based on historical happenings.
With this form of civility in mind, we — particularly white folks — need to be asking ourselves a number of questions. Most important among them: How can we, in a civil and productive manner, respond to blatant racism?
We need to search for answers to this question daily, both within our communities and within ourselves.
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Here are four strategies we at the Community Equity Collaborative (CEC) endorse:
1. Volunteer to support Vermont candidates of color for public office at every level of government. Donate to their campaigns.
2. Advocate for social justice and social competency development in our schools, where young people develop a sense of civility and what it means to be an active bystander. The Windham Southeast Supervisory Union curriculum is a model in that regard.
3. Through your state legislators, support the ethnic-studies legislation in the upcoming 2019 legislative session to ensure that all Vermont students are getting access to a curriculum that teaches from a multicultural perspective.
4. Promote diverse workforce development by recruiting and retaining a workforce that reflects our region and state’s shifting demographic. In partnership with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, the CEC’s Diverse Workforce Development Committee is made up of our region’s largest employers who work toward this goal.
It is clear that hate does indeed exist here in our state of Vermont. Civility binds us together.
How we respond to racism and bigotry in all of its forms, and how we respond to change the systems that allow this hate to perpetuate, will make all the difference.