Fighting the ugly underbelly of racial hatred

It’s a mystery why so many white Americans think that people of color are inferior

BRATTLEBORO — College campuses with swastikas on the sidewalks and in bathroom stalls.

A white woman verbally abusing two Latinx women for speaking Spanish in a public space.

A group of white racists destroying a Black child's birthday party.

A Black woman is shot and killed by a police officer while playing video games with her nephew in her own home.

Former State Rep. Kiah Morris being harassed out of the Legislature in our very own state by a racist monster who paid no price for his inexcusable stalking and threatening.

Unless your consumption is Fox News, it is almost impossible to be a news consumer and miss the ever-increasing, everyday violence and verbal abuse that people of color experience.

What is going on in this country?

* * *

I am an economically comfortable, business-owning white woman raised in a basically segregated suburb of New York. We had one Black girl in our elementary school. My parents' friends were all white. A Black woman cleaned our home and baby-sat for us.

I guess I could have become one of those Americans who does not get why I need to fight the racism inherent in this country every day with all my abilities.

When Donald Trump began his rise to the position he is so poorly filling, it was clear from who he is that racial hatred, snark, and nastiness were his stock in trade - and that he was able to captivate that segment of U.S. voters for whom white supremacy is a strong and pervasive value.

There were even those, at first, who thought that exposing the ugly underbelly or racial hatred would begin the process of racial healing in America.

This is clearly not what happened.

* * *

As a child, I did not really fit in with most of my peers. I was very conscious, maybe even obsessed, with the concepts of fairness and justice.

I was born in 1954, so throughout my childhood, some of the most violent, terrifying, and powerful episodes of the Civil Rights struggles were on the evening news, which my family watched as a group.

I have always thought getting to know people who are from different places, backgrounds, and lifestyles is part of what makes life worth living. As a young teen, I went to a small summer camp with a very diverse group of campers. It was really a first experience lying in my cot and learning about life in both a Black neighborhood in Boston as well as a suburb of Paris. I felt like I had hit the lottery - it felt so liberating.

I also was deeply and permanently changed by watching the United States military devastate the villages, cities, and jungles of Vietnam, also on the evening news. I spent many hours in bed at night not sleeping, but full of anger, frustration, and sadness about what was happening in my own country and thinking about how I would work to do something when I was older.

Well, I am older now.

I am still pondering what I can do to make this country a more fair and just place. With that question comes the basic mystery of why so many white Americans think that people of color are inferior, or not people they want to know, or live with, or work among, or consider for elected office - or, in the most extreme cases, live within our borders.

* * *

One of the main reasons I felt compelled to open Everyone's Books in 1984, long before the advent of the internet, was to stock and feature the best selection of multicultural children's books in New England. I traveled to schools and libraries around the area with displays of diverse kids' books, and I had a mail order catalog (which died with the rise of Amazon).

We continue to be a place where people can find that tough-to-find book for their biracial nephew whose parents are separating, or for the parents of a trans child, or for the only child of color in a small town.

I still feel that the books children read have a huge influence on their development and that for many kids, they serve as their only exposure to varied family structures, to people of different origins, and to people who learn or look different from the norm.

I am not sure whether curiosity about others is a hallmark of a healthy brain, but I think it should be. We live in a world that has an amazingly fluid population and meet people from every part of it. It enriches all of us.

I hope we have created a welcoming place for people from all backgrounds. I hope we in our store fight daily an image of Vermont as not welcoming to people of color - if anyone who works for us ever were to give out that vibe, they'd be looking for another job.

I try to speak out through writing and in every interaction whenever racial injustice is happening, to work to defeat the monsters who are trying to make this into a country where only white people are powerful.

And I strive every day to be a force for kindness, and for rage and action when necessary.

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