White America is reeling from being exposed to the truth. We are like the children of a mobster who wake up to the headlines that our dear father, who brought us home candy and protected us from the neighbors on the other side of the tracks, turns out to be a bloodthirsty killer who made his money through extortion, gun running and murder. No matter that the people on the other side of the tracks knew this all along. Now we know too.
We are and have been since the very beginning, the United States of White Supremacy. Seeking religious freedom, we came, we expropriated/killed those in our way, and established religious intolerance. All power, land and money went to white Europeans. All people of color were either seen as problems, occupying land that could turn a profit for the white population, or opportunities for exploitation, violence and enslavement for profit.
We were generous with our contempt for others; Italian, Irish, and Eastern European immigrants all got their share of being treated like non-whites until they were able to assimilate themselves after several generations because of the color of their skin.
To be sure, our actions in the last couple of hundred years were within the mainstream of the thinking of those who held power; we are not entirely an anomaly. But we are a disgrace to the ideals that we promulgated. Those ideals, (meant only for whites) were not fulfilled even among the white population. But they were ignored entirely and understood not to pertain at all to anyone of color. Blithely we progressed, massacring native Americans, fighting tooth and nail to maintain slavery, fighting tooth and nail to maintain barriers and obstacles to people of color, from Jim Crow to HUD regulations to redlining to good old fashioned lynching, bullying and terrorism imposed with impunity by a racist white society.
Now we’re Shocked! Shocked! that we are being accused of being part of the problem, especially those of us who live in states like Vermont where the people of color are a low percentage of our population.
Why should we be held to account for things that happened: in the past, in Minneapolis, in the South, in the halls of power? Those are other peoples’ problems, we’re progressives here!
So progressive that our police, both local and state, stop, arrest and hassle people of color four times more often than whites. Blacks make up 1.2 percent of Vermont’s population, but are 10.7% of the prison population. So progressive that Native Americans whose ancestors were here before ours had to hide in the fringes of society for decades for fear of being kidnapped and re-educated. Now they have to put up with us pretending they no longer exist.
So progressive that whether you find yourself in Windham County, Addison County or beyond, you can always find a confederate flag, not to mention the mobile ones on the pick-up trucks, revving their engines showing that they are not afraid to waste gas and spread intimidation.
We have a duty to repudiate. Not just repudiate racism. Not just repudiate police misconduct and murder. Not just repudiate the confederate flag at the racetrack. We must repudiate the entire white supremacist foundation of our country. We must repudiate every lie that we have held near and dear since the founding of the nation. We must repudiate ourselves for choosing to remain clueless/silent in the face of obvious and glaring atrocities against non-whites committed daily in this country.
We have a duty to watch for, recognize and call out every brand of racism that raises its ugly head. Every white Vermonter has a duty to stop and bear witness whenever a police officer is seen dealing with a person of color. If on the road, we can find a place to park, walk back to the traffic stop, stay on the other side of the road and simply bear witness. We can tell the police that we are looking forward to being able to report how professional they are and we hope to be proud of their work. But the facts have shown us that we cannot rely on them to do so fully without our scrutiny and supervision. (Yes, we have a right to supervise those who are here to protect and serve us.)
If police are interacting with people of color when we are on foot, nothing could be simpler than stopping and observing in solidarity with those whom we know are being targeted all out of proportion. It’s very simple, but it won’t be comfortable. If we are not feeling discomfort everyday in thinking about race in America, then we are failing as citizens.
When we see a catalogue/organization literature/news story/photo essay that is directed only/primarily to white people, we can contact those organizations/businesses etc. and make them explain how ignoring non-white faces and stories in their literature is not an act of racism in itself. Even if we live in a remote area and have next to no dealings with people of color, we are connected to the rest of the world by various means and we can make an impact by reaching out and challenging racism in every domain and platform it exists.
So dear old dad is a murderer after all. His sons and daughters need not follow his footsteps. In fact, we can instead vow to open our eyes and never accept another lie about our reality. A lazy nation is awakening to the fact that we are steeped in racism, sexism and violence. We must never go back to sleep.