Don’t shy away
“This is what it looks like to stand up and be counted,” Kesha Ram wrote on Facebook on Sept. 25. Ram, a Democratic state representative from Burlington and a former candidate for lieutenant governor, continued: “When the Black Lives Matter flag was stolen last night, University of Vermont Student Life Director Pat Brown and his wife Amy painted a new one and replaced it without fanfare or expectation. We must bear witness at this historic moment when courageous and compassionate action is needed. We can demonstrate how to drive out darkness with light and hate with love. Pat has been doing that for decades, and everyone in this state and across the nation can learn something from him.”

Don’t shy away

Try to listen and learn from people who have experienced the effects of racism — even if those conversations are uncomfortable

Much of my education around racial injustice in the United States took place once I moved out of Vermont to a more racially diverse community - but it actually began here.

It began with a mother who gave me books that told many American stories, not just one - a mother who didn't shy away from tough conversations about our country. She described what she had witnessed as a young woman, when Birmingham police turned fire hoses on young protesters, and how that had shaped her deep commitment to racial equality.

As I grew older and learned about the ways institutional racism has been written in law, culture, housing policy, and the criminal justice system, I often didn't know what I should do as a white person. Sometimes I still don't.

But again and again, I've drawn on what I learned growing up in Vermont to address injustices, however I can.

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Growing up here, I learned to value tight-knit community. I admired neighbors who plowed one another's driveways, who listened to elders, who tried to learn from history.

This is the Vermont I know, and the Vermont strength I lean on as I try to listen and learn from people who have experienced the effects of racism. These are the values that lead me to support movements that fight for respect and dignity for all - movements like Black Lives Matter.

Many of us like to think of Vermont as progressive, but so much hate and misunderstanding has taken root here. On a recent article about the University of Vermont flying a Black Lives Matter flag, I saw people my age, people from my home state, full of rage and certainty that a movement for black lives is a “domestic terrorist group” that “hates cops.”

For a long time, I didn't dive into conversations about racism with white people from Vermont. Maybe I mistakenly thought these discussions were for more diverse communities.

But now I see there is so much work to be done - not somewhere else in the country, but right here, with our neighbors.

* * *

We all tell children stories about the place they are growing up. We define the state and country our children will call their own by what we do narrate or we don't, by the stories we tell about the people we teach them to perceive as neighbors or the people we teach them to fear.

I know these conversations can be extremely uncomfortable. But when we shield our white neighbors, family, or friends from the reality of racial injustice in this country, we do nothing but perpetuate white supremacy.

Those aren't the values I saw growing up in Vermont.

I hope we can remind one another of that.

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