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Rawls: Admitting To Bigotry

The confederate flag can be seen through snowy Vermont woods.

One of the slogans we heard often during the recent political season was the assertion by our governor that we do things differently in Vermont.
It’s a pleasant sentiment that affirms our idea of ourselves as being distinct from the discordant political pot that simmers so hotly today in America. And while a drive through rural Vermont still yields the same beautiful landscape it always has, I’ve had the unmistakable impression that it is increasingly dotted with confederate flags on sheds, bumpers, and clothing.

This observation prompted a friend from the kingdom to remark, “We have a deep history of racism where I grew up, but we’re proud not to show it.”

Our belief that we’re distinct is built on a rural folkloric identity of backwoods self-sufficiency that might fairly be characterized as ‘conservative.’ So perhaps as the influence of liberal political leadership in Vermont increases, pockets of conservativism become more fearful and their willingness to admit to bigotry increases.

But our brand of bigotry may go beyond straightforward racism. In a place where the confederate flag historically wouldn’t have flown, maybe those who display it are indicating their allegiance to a less specific belief system – one that’s purposefully antagonistic, defiant and a hostile challenge to a world that idealizes the country-living, flannel-clad Vermont image.

The widely-accepted solution for racism is education. But I’d argue that equally important are conservative political leaders who don’t build discrimination into their platforms. As long as votes can be gotten by affirming racist half-truths and age-old stereotypes, there’ll be candidates who benefit from bigotry. But if we support leaders who aren't afraid to say, “It’s time to stop blaming people who look different from us for the problems we’ve created,” we might not see our landscape so checkered with emblems of hate.

Until then, Mr. Scott’s assertion that we do things differently here might still be true, but not in the way he meant. And having put our own spin on bigotry, I’m not sure we have the privilege of being able to claim that we’re distinct in the ways we would like to imagine.

Alan Rawls grew up in Monkton, VT. He is currently a graduate student in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Northern Vermont University in Johnson.
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