This year, I felt strongly compelled to attend the multi-denominational celebration of Martin Luther King Day here in Brattleboro in response to all of the racial injustice, shootings and hate crimes that have shocked their way into my consciousness in recent times. It was a perfect opportunity to show support for our black community who really could use it.
After many uplifting statements and musical performances, we heard Kiah Morris’ impassioned testimony and invocation to stand up for what’s right in respecting all people of all races. Morris was the only African-American legislator in Vermont, representing Bennington County. She shared a horrific account of needing to resign her legislative position due to continuous racial harassment aimed at her and her family. The leading proponent of the harassment was public about it, but it doesn’t appear that the laws in this country have caught up with defining fine lines of what is appropriate free speech and what is not.
At the end of the evening, we were requested to ask ourselves what we intended to do about the inequity of this situation. I came away knowing that I wanted to do something, but felt pretty lost about what.
As life would have it, recent circumstances have brought me, a 68-year-old white man, into close collaboration with two young (30-year-old?) African Americans from the Washington D.C. area. Upon opening a conversation to the effect of “Here we are, from such different demographics,” they responded, depicting, from my limited viewpoint, an evolved image of where things stand in this country for a person of African heritage.
They also recommended that I watch two videos. “The Disturbing History of the Suburbs: Adam Ruins Everything” on YouTube is a 6 minute revelation on the collusion between the developers of Levittown, New York (a famous, groundbreaking, suburban housing development), and the powers that be, including the federal government. They conspire successfully to keep African Americans (and other groups, no doubt) down and bereft of any possibility of joining the winners’ circle game that elevated white people’s economic and social status, allowing their kids to go to college, etc.
The details of this rigged game of disparity is laid out graphically in this video and supports the statistics that I’ve read. The average white person in this country has a net worth of $170,000 while the average African-American’s is $17,000. Add to that mix the fact that African Americans, in general, lack the ancestral wealth that white people gained through European exploitation of other people’s lands.
That video was just a warmup. It was also suggested that we (my partner Annie and I) also watch the Netflix documentary “13th.” Netflix productions just went way up in my estimation after watching this Academy Award-nominated tour de force. One out of four African Americans will spend time in prison compared to one out of 17 white people. Is there a reason for this? Well, reader, I don’t know about you, but I’ve suspected forever that there are crooked deals going on in this country that I can’t have access to.
In this video, that hunch is confirmed. Collusion behind the scenes of our government is a part of it. I don’t feel capable of analyzing this film in the time that I have, but I know that I will never look at an African American the same way again. And Annie, who has taught high school English for 21 years, told her class about the video the next morning and said she was “ashamed for what I didn’t realize had been going on all along.”
I left the Martin Luther King celebration with an intent to do something. This letter is a start.
T. Breeze Verdant lives in Williamsville.