White People: Save the Nation; Break Your Silence

Mark Hughes, Executive Director, JFA

Racial hate and the systemic response to it (or lack thereof) are what recently forced an African American political candidate to withdraw her candidacy. Our constitution says that “Every person within this state ought to find a certain remedy, by having recourse to the laws, for all injuries or wrongs which one may receive in person, property or character; every person ought to obtain right and justice, freely, and without being obliged to purchase it; completely and without any denial; promptly and without delay; comformably to the laws.” As we have throughout all history, we stand awaiting a remedy yet again but all we get it silence.

Yes. Racial hatred remains an issue in Vermont and across the nation. As ridiculous and unfortunate as this situation is, at least it shines a light on a reality that exists in the everyday lives of over 31thousand black and brown folks across the state. The OTHER racism which has a much more harmful global impact is systemic racism. Black and brown people are being left out or left behind in the areas of housing, education, employment, health services, economic development and criminal justice EVERY DAY! The final racism is political in nature and the edifice of policy violence. The current stream of racial inflammatory rhetoric and the Trump administration’s decision to overtly run a campaign on it is stoking the flames.

The Governor and his entire staff conducted operations from Bennington; ground zero of the activities surrounding the hate triggered campaign withdrawal. There was not a peep from the administration about the overt racist acts and the systemic response that caused the pullout. The Governor’s racially mute visit to Bennington in the middle of this horrific sequence of events goes far beyond him having blind spot or tone deafness. As an African American in Vermont, it is an arrogant slap in the face. Silence.

As a result of my direct involvement I could go on for pages with all of the obstacles that the Scott administration has deployed to block our attempts at legislative efforts to address overt and systemic racism in Vermont. The so-called progressive legislature has also throttled some of these efforts with the use of procedure and the skillful crafting of language to block significant portions of racial justice reform proposals. The press continues to struggle to responsibly capture and appropriately contextualize the struggle and the historical significance of the legislative work that is being done surrounding racial justice. An example is the lack of coverage in 2018 of H.R.25, the first effort to remove slavery from the constitution in Vermont history! Silence.

Governor Scott just reappointed an attorney specializing in law enforcement defense to the State Police Advisory Commission. The Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council broke the newly created law (ACT54) by changing the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy without consulting the Human Rights Commission in November 2017. The Chair and Vice-Chair (myself) of the Racial Disparities in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice System Advisory Panel resigned in March of this year. Silence.

The biggest threat that black and brown Vermonters face today is white silence, because with it comes complicit consent to escalation of overt hate. With this silence black and brown folks will continue to be locked up and locked out as white folks choose to look the other way, pretending to believe the age-old false claims of the inalienable rights of all men. With this silence officials will be elected who in turn create policies with the intent of hurting black and brown people but the majority of the folks impacted will once again be white folks (Because while most black people are poor, most poor people are white).

People of color pleaded with the neo-liberal progressive white folk to break the silence in 2016. Black and brown folks even comforted white people and welcomed them to the struggle on November 9th. Two years later many white people have either normalized, become complicit or have grown numb. Throughout all history white people have ignored the fact that they are directly responsible for the policy violence directed at black folks, which hurts us more but hurts more of you. White folks, save the heart of this nation so the United States of America can for once be one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all. Break your silence.