I attended the Aug. 5 Rutland City Board of Aldermen meeting. I appreciated the newspaper coverage of the “Across the Fence” portion of that meeting which focused on the issue of racism in this area. I thank Kate Barcellos for a good article; however, I would like to note one line in the piece with which I have an issue as an older, white male who clearly recognizes the existence of white privilege and racism throughout American society and history.
That line, in reference to several speakers, was “Their fear is racism could take root here.”
In fact, racism — sadly — already has more than just roots in Vermont, as it does throughout the country. Unfortunately, we also currently have people in power in Washington, D.C., who have been going far beyond just carefully nurturing that racism throughout the nation in the last few years.
I’m not a person-of-color, but I’ve witnessed an unprecedented increase in expressions of racism directly, in both my professional and personal life. I’ve heard more racial (and other) epithets in the last three years than in my previous 50, by far. Donald Trump and his enablers in Congress, Fox News and hate radio, as well as others, have been blowing the racist dog whistles repeatedly, but they no longer even pretend to disguise their racism. And not surprisingly, incidents of racism have been steadily rising, as well, including acts of physical violence/terrorism by far-right-wing/white-supremacist hate groups.
If we continue on this dark path, I fear it’s only a matter of time before something more violent happens here in Vermont. We’ve already witnessed direct threats to a former state legislator who is a person of color; anti-Semitic materials left in local libraries; and — yes — Facebook posts from a local, elected official and many others who echo the racist messages emanating from the Oval Office and target people of color and others (the list is growing).
There has been despicable and cowardly targeting of people of color, who are particularly vulnerable in the second-whitest state in the country. In denying the racism and reality of white privilege, such messages seek to invalidate the very real experiences of systemic racism by people of color in this state and the country. That very invalidation is, in itself, most decidedly abusive (and a form of violence).
As an older, white male, I’d like to express how utterly disgusted I am with those who not only express their racist views and would have us regress with regard to civil rights, but those who enable this ugly trend.
I’m pointing directly to elected officials who don’t stand up and take principled stands, anyone who denies the existence of racism and white privilege, or those who acknowledge it but just turn away and do nothing. As Charles Juliussen so passionately stated at the Aug. 5 meeting, “white people who express these views do not speak for me and never will!”
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. For a period of my early years, I lived with my maternal grandparents. They were both church-going, small-town, New England folks, and they were staunch Republicans. The only Democrat they ever supported for president was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. Why? Because they felt Barry Goldwater was a racist. They despised racism. They strongly opposed segregation in the South and they were disgusted by individuals such as avowed racist Gov. George Wallace of Alabama. Knowing what their values were, I can say, unequivocally, they would deplore Donald Trump and all he stands for, and they would be horrified by what the Republican Party has become during the past three to four decades.
I don’t think my grandparents would have fully understood the concept of white privilege or the full experience of what it means to be a people of color in a society that was built on the backs of slavery and its later permutations such as Jim Crow laws, segregation and the more recent “War on Drugs.” However, they firmly believed people should be judged on how they live their lives and how they treat others. And they believed we are all equal in (their belief) God’s eyes, and this should be the rule here on Earth — you know, radical/socialist concepts such as “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
I grew up with these values drilled into me. I learned very early on racial epithets were the most vile thing one could say. I have never uttered the n-word ... nor other epithets. Those years of my youth were also when the Civil Rights Act, as well as various other types of civil rights legislation, were passed, and for decades, it seemed our country was progressing forward toward such ideals as true “liberty and justice for all.” The scourge of racism was to be left behind in the cesspool of history. I witnessed more people of color run for office and get elected. I saw people of color in the mass media and popular culture, and portrayed as positive role models. An old-time racist named Archie Bunker became an anachronism one could laugh at, and we even witnessed him slowly modifying his belief system through the years. There was hope people could change. I thought we would continue to progress toward the ideal of true equality for all, and prejudices would eventually fade.
But, sadly, it appears this was mostly an illusion. Much of the racism, the prejudices, just went underground and festered for decades while various powerful forces prepared a foundation for their full re-emergence. I regret I was partly blinded to the long-term goals of this extremist agenda by my own immersion in white privilege. I didn’t think we could possibly regress so much. Reading and talking with friends and co-workers who are people of color made me realize just how much racism was still out there. Now, it’s reached a whole new level since the election of Donald Trump as president. And let’s no longer mince words here, mass media. He is a full-fledged racist.
Key in this process were the rise of hate-mongers on talk radio and then the creation of Fox News, along with media consolidation, and the endless “dog whistles.” Reagan talked about “welfare queens.” George W. Bush aired the Willie Horton ads. The “War on Drugs” targeted POC, particularly the poor and those in the inner cities. Redlining continued unabated in neighborhoods where POC lived. Laws were passed against employment discrimination, but employers developed tricks for getting around them. POC were regularly racially profiled and incarcerated (or killed) at far higher rates for the same crimes committed by whites. Subtle (or not) stereotyping increased in the mass media. Ironically, it really came crashing down with what should have been one of the final nails in the coffin for racism: the election of the first African-American to the presidency — Barack Obama.
And so, here we are. Racism is being validated and even encouraged by those in power. We have a “president” who is actively dividing the country and even encouraging violence while coddling white-supremacist hate groups.
We have thousands of people flocking to Nuremburg-like rallies and screaming “Send them back!” about elected officials who just happen to be POC and who are just as American as they are. We have mass-murdering, right-wing terrorists who are taking their cues from this “president,” targeting people based on their color and/or ethnicity (and likely to expand the groups that they are attacking). And we have elected officials and others not taking any responsibility for the violence and even having the nerve to blame the victims, as well as potential future targets.
And here I am: An older, white male who knows deep in my soul how evil this whole scene is and who will do all I can possibly do to fight this ugliness, this hatred, this slide into a darkness I foolishly believed at some point could never happen (again) here, because I recognize this has been the lifelong experience of POC and I’m ashamed this is a country that will not finally acknowledge these ugly truths, validate what POC have experienced, set things right, make amends and move forward to a better future for all of us. I’m ashamed so many would have us, instead, go backward and inflict pain and suffering on so many people out of fear, insecurity and the desire to be the “dominant culture.” They can’t begin to see how diversity enriches and strengthens this nation and ourselves. They can’t accept any change, and they can’t grow.
And I will fight against this hatred, this racism, this willful ignorance and lust for absolute power over others marked as “the other.” I’ll do so partly because that’s exactly what my grandparents, who were lifelong Republicans until they passed away in the early 1970s, would have expected of me. I’ll do so because, in reality, there should be no “other.” We are all human and inhabitants of planet Earth.
Glenn Reed is a concerned citizen who lives in Rutland.