DEAR CONCERNED, well-intentioned neighbors,
Could it happen here in Vermont?
You bet it could!
So stop wringing your hands over the death and injuries inflicted by white supremacists in far, faraway Charlottesville, Va.
Stop jockeying amongst yourselves for those coveted civil rights merit badges (placard painting, silent vigil attendance, protest slogan chanting, street marching, published letter to the editor, etc.).
And stop trying to convince the few people of color you know that you are one of the “good” white people.
Instead, use that energy to challenge the visible and not-so-visible signs of white supremacist hate in your own Vermont community.
Have no doubt that there are white supremacists among us here in the Green Mountains. White supremacists who display hate symbols are easy to identify, but many more sit inconspicuously next to you at work or church, or give you a nod in the supermarket, or organize playdates with your children, or serve in the public sphere as elected officials or public servants.
* * *
HERE ARE FOUR THINGS you can immediately do to combat white supremacy:
1. Inform any individual displaying Nazi, Confederate, or other hate symbols that the display of those symbols offends you personally and denigrates Vermont communities in general.
If nothing more, they need to know that you know they are spewing hate. Beware, however, that confronting those who display hate symbols comes with the risk of violence, as evidenced by the events in Charlottesville.
2. Ensure that your town government, chamber of commerce, and business and service organizations enshrine in policy that no vendor may display or sell hate symbols at any sponsored event on their property. Remember Ronald Reagan’s directive when engaging this body politic: “trust but verify.”
3. Mandate school policies that ban the display of hate symbols on school property (including on vehicles in the parking lot) and at school-sponsored events. Ensure that area schools teach students how to recognize hate symbols.
4. Demonstrate conspicuously courageous leadership by addressing hate speech, whether verbal or displayed, within your multiple spheres of influence, whenever and wherever it happens.
* * *
NEIGHBOR, failure to fully engage white supremacists in our communities constitutes an abdication of individual responsibility to build diverse, inclusive, and equitable communities. So stop the hand wringing and engage!
Furthermore, effective engagement with your white-supremacist neighbors requires courage, tenacity, vigilance, and creative thought.
Finally, should you choose to combat white supremacy up close and personal in your community please send me an email of your encounters and progress at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Curtiss Reed, Jr. serves as executive director of Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity. Reed provides expert training and coaching on inclusion, bias, and equity to state agency, municipal, institutional and business clients as well as community organizations across Vermont. He serves as Vice-chair of the Vermont Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights and sits on statewide commissions dealing with law enforcement, education, and minority health issues.
Reed is the driving force behind three statewide initiatives: The Vermont African American Heritage Trail, The Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Initiative, and The Think Tank for Vermont Leaders of Color. After 18 consecutive years working and living overseas Reed returned to Vermont in 2001 when he began working for Vermont Partnership, previously known as ALANA Community Organization.