Growing up in one of the least diverse states in the country, I was exposed more to racist ideas than to people that looked different from me. Of the eight-hundred students (grades 7-12) at my school, there were perhaps a total of five or six black and brown students and certainly no teachers of color. I regularly heard racist remarks in the school hallways and from neighbors. I’ve never understood why people thought and talked this way and back then I naively thought that they were just talking among themselves and thus the words did not matter. I never spoke up because it was easier not to, and I never gave the comments much thought beyond the moment. I was raised with the simple teaching that everyone matters, everyone is equal, and the color of one’s skin is simply not a factor. I incorrectly thought that because I’m not racist I was above the fray of it all.
It was not until I recently read an article about a former classmate who left after high school graduation because she felt unwelcome despite the fact that she had grown up here and is a sixth-generation Vermonter–that’s an important thing in Vermont, to be from here for many generations. In that moment of reading about her leaving, it all fell into place and I realized that what I had been taught growing up was not enough–that the way I had been operating all these years, thinking that I was above the fray, was wrong and that as a privileged white male, I was part of the problem even though I did not realize it.
But now what?
The only thing I know is that it is no longer enough to just be not a racist, we must be anti-racist though I’m not entirely sure what that entails. I do know that this is our burden to bear and we must start by reeducating ourselves and our children. This cannot be accomplished, on the scale it needs to be, if Trump’s reign continues for another term. His isolationist, racist rhetoric, and his outlandish executive orders that seek to silence the outspoken and keep the full history of this country hidden must be stopped. By voting him out of office we can begin to make positive nationwide strides to come to terms with the systemic racism that has been rampant throughout our history and continues to this day.
It will take much more than just voting Trump out of course. It will take copious amounts of open non-judgmental dialog of both young and old; it will take grace and far more listening than speaking. We, the white and privileged, must have the conversations that make us squirm. We must confront the prejudiced and racist aspects of our lives that are so ingrained in us and our society that we are blind to them and to the power they contribute to the oppression and hate that is swirling around us today. None of us are above the fray and until we do all of this and so much more, then we will never live in a country where all people are created equal.