Creating a Putney where people of color can be heard, believed, and responded to by a largely white community

PUTNEY — To the community of Putney; our town, state, and federal elected officials; and other towns taking up the work of understanding systemic racism:

In 2016, the Putney Friends Meeting (Quakers) agreed to hang a Black Lives Matter sign in front of the Meetinghouse. We also agreed that we wanted to become a body that is actively involved to make our Quaker Meeting and our community as whole, active participants in the change that needs to happen to become more anti-racist.

Part of that understanding is that white people in our congregation and community need to learn the history and impact of slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, continuing disparities in opportunities for housing and education, and mass incarceration of African Americans, as a result of white American denial and indifference.

We need to understand how the resultant white privilege is not simply a matter of individual acts of blatant violence, but in fact the truth that unwittingly, all white people have inherited systemic racism.

It shows up for all white people, and it is our responsibility to work on intimate understanding of how that system of racism plays out all the time in our interactions with people of color.

On Sept. 2, Steffen Gillom, president of the Windham County NAACP, attended a Selectboard meeting in Putney. That meeting, like many, was broadcast by Brattleboro Community Television (BCTV).

This meeting is a great example of a person of color speaking up about systemic racist activity that he had experienced. It took great courage for him to address a room of white people about behavior that white people find difficult to acknowledge because of the enormous discomfort it provokes in them.

The outcomes of that meeting for Putney were profound. White participants were able to:

• Admit their own moments of unintended racism.

• Invite one another into conversation and study about systemic racism, at a time when talking openly about race is still almost impossible for white people to do.

• Challenge one another to step up our game, to examine closely how people of color are treated in our town, and how to begin to recognize how microaggressions are currently and actively experienced here.

We see it as helpful and educational as white people to invite feedback from people of color to point out racist comments, acts, etc., such as Steffen gave us all at this meeting.

Members of Putney Friends Meeting continue to be troubled by, and wrestle with, white supremacy. Our congregation has undertaken reading racial healing material (anti-racism) material, sharing with other Friends Meetings taking up this work, and participating in local groups working for justice and addressing systemic racism.

Putney Friends Meeting will:

• Join in the community with continual work on systemic racism by supporting conversations and action that do just that.

• Participate in town-wide book groups.

• Support the Equity and Inclusion Committee.

• Encourage the Selectboard to take up active anti-racism training as a model of getting educated about how systemic racism works in Vermont.

• Encourage our membership to join the Sept. 27 Black Lives Matter street painting.

We appreciate that mistakes are essential to learning, and the real question is how we are creating a trusting-enough town, where honest feedback from people of color can be heard, believed, and responded to by our largely white community.

This is for all of us.

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