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.
In 2009, I started this blog. In the beginning, I wrote about my life as a stay-at-home-dad and the blog was named Smart Men Marry Doctors. Through the years I have allowed the blog to consume me, I have left it silent, changed the focus from writing to art and back to writing. When I finally came to understand and became comfortable with the role that God had laid out for me I changed the name to Quietly Making Noise, the title of a Jimmy Buffett (I’m a Parrot Head) song and a nod to my father, who thought it was a wonderful saying. The one constant that has remained over the years is that I have stayed away from politics and the other divisive topics of our time. I loathe confrontation and am not all that interested in politics but it has become clear that I need to step out of my comfort zone and to begin quietly making noise because being silent is no longer an option.
The politicization of our country did not magically appear in 2016. Frustration and mistrust have been brewing for years; Trump just hastened the process by using his position as president to push lies and conspiracy theories and divide our country further. This was easily done because as a society we have been complacent, happy to stay in our own bubbles of selected information and ignore what is glaringly obvious.
After Trump’s “stand back and stand by” remark that the Proud Boys and other extremist organizations took as marching orders I decided to try and learn more about the Proud Boys and domestic terrorism in general. I spent a day looking through the websites and documents of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the FBI, The Center for Strategic International Studies, and various news reports. I even watched a couple of videos of the founder of the Proud Boys who openly promotes violence. That should not be surprising from a fraternity of grown men whose second stage of initiation is to punch the inductee repeatedly while he yells out names of breakfast cereals. It is all very troubling, but because I educated myself if only slightly, I came away less afraid because education removes fear. I also came away feeling hopeful. It is still monumentally scary as Elizabeth Neumann underscored when speaking about Trump’s words from the debate in a tweet on September 30th; “This is bigger than countering Antifa protest or militia activity at riots. The root ideologies at play are responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing.”
We cannot despair. Running to our beds to hide under the covers is not allowed. What we can do is follow the advice of my grandmother who in 1997 wrote to me in her angelic script on fine cream colored paper the following words.
“The key to life is to be ever brave, sure and considerate of fellow men. Be ever aware of the needs around you, and above all, live each day with kindness.”
Living in kindness and consideration is the first step in the process of healing this nation. When we step out of our narcissistic tunnels and listen to others so that we can understand the common bonds that connect us we can begin to grow in empathy with each other. We as citizens need to rise up and come to the table with open hearts and minds ready to listen. We have a long way to go. But if we have a frank, honest, and civil discussion, and accept the faults of others as well as our own, then we will persevere.