The Friday, Jan. 18, Herald featured a story stating that the “System failed Kiah Morris.” It wasn’t the system. It was all of us who are willing to give tacit permission for racism and hatred to go unchecked in our state. I realize that some people believe that, “There is no problem. We are all equal.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. What I say to them is, “In your small circle, you may honestly believe that things are equal and fair, but in the world around you that is not the case.” It’s hard to imagine racial bias and hatred if you’ve never been exposed to it.
Some people actually believe that President Obama is responsible for awakening racism in this country. Again, that is tacitly untrue. He was the victim of blatant racism, especially when the birther movement arose. But, racism and racial hatred has been pervasive throughout the history of our nation. One only has to examine the history of African Americans to find a multitude of incidents and failures to protect people of color. If racism became a topic of conversation during the Obama administration time, it surely was a good thing.
While an individual may believe that racism is not in their heart, being uneducated on the nature and history of race in this country makes that person complicit in the perpetuation of racist ideology. Being uneducated and unsophisticated in terms of race relations does not make somebody guilty of racism, but surely it contributes to practices and attitudes that promote bias and misunderstanding. Subconscious racism isn’t only apparent in behaviors that are directed towards people of color, but it also occurs when we allow our privilege as white people to give us opportunities that others may not experience because of their race or ethnicity without seeking a fair playing field.
What happened to Kiah Morris is a perfect example of how racism has eroded the peaceful existence she found here in Vermont. The threats, intimidation and hatred that infiltrated her office and her home are totally unacceptable. The perpetrator of at least some of the offending and menacing messages sent to her received restraining orders that had no effective power in the world of online communications. Others who may have been involved in breaking into and vandalizing her home were never found. And, evidence of just how far Max Misch, the online messenger, will go was evident in his brazen appearance at the news conference last Monday and his boasting that he enjoys “trolling” and harassing people like Kiah. The forces to protect us all clearly dropped the ball.
The fact that the AG filed “no charges” against Mr. Misch is appalling to say the least. The fact that no additional security was provided for Kiah as one of our representatives in Montpelier is alarming. She received death threats. Her home was violated. Her family was living in trepidation. So severe was the onslaught to her personal and professional existence that she did the only sensible thing she could do. She resigned. We all lost a powerful and strong voice that stood out to promote equality and justice for all of us.
Kiah correctly concluded in a statement about the incidents, “I am not the cause of racism in this state… It is not on me to make everyone whole again. Nor is it my burden to help us all heal from this moment.”
The truth is that it is the responsibility of those who enjoy the privilege of living without fear, without worry, without the threats and attacks on their person, family and job. It is all of us who are responsible for turning this around. What happened to Kiah is totally unacceptable.
On Wednesday, there will be an opportunity for us to show our solidarity with Kiah and to explore what is happening in the AG’s office. T.J. Donovan will be at the Rutland Free Library from 6 to 8 p.m.
Dr. Alis Headlam is a Rutland City resident.