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'Our Way Of Being Seen And Being Heard': Exhibit Highlights Lives Of Vermonters Of Color

Person holds a dry-erase board that says Where Are you From? No I mean before that. No I men where were you born? No I mean where are your parents from? #IamVermontToo
This photograph of Sarika Tandon is part of the 'Visible in Vermont' exhibit currently on display at the Bennington Museum.

An exhibition of photographs currently on display at the Bennington Museum explores the experiences people of color have in their day-to-day lives in Vermont.

The "I Am Vermont Too" movement was inspired by a similar action called "I, Too, Am Harvard." In both cases, people of color were photographed holding a dry-erase board, usually with a quote of something someone had said to them — something racist, or insensitive, or that revealed the way people of color are often seen as outsiders in more traditionally or majority white spaces.

The "Visible in Vermont: Our Stories, Our Voices" exhibit was first shown at the Vermont Statehouse back in 2017, and it is now on display at the Bennington Museum until Dec. 30.

Listen above for Vermont Edition's walk-through of the exhibit with organizers.

When people enter the museum, the exhibit is the first thing they experience and visitors to the exhibit can also pick up a sheet with biographical information about each of the Vermonters pictured. Portrait subjects include #IAmVermontToo on their dry-erase board.

Person holds up a dry-erase board that says What Island are you from? #IamVermontToo
Credit Courtesy
Mia Schultz, the site coordinator for the exhibit at Bennington Museum, said this photo of Josie Hardy is one of her favorites in the collection.

Sha'an Mouliert, co-coordinator of I Am Vermont Too, said the exhibit can convey different messages to different audiences.

"Many times Vermonters hear about experiences of people of color outside the state," Mouliert said. "So, one: it allows white folks to see what we hear. And two: it allows other folks of color to know that they're not alone. ... So we're not only saying this is a harmful experience, we want to say, in spite of that, that we are contributing members of Vermont."

Bennington Museum curator Jamie Franklin said the project's site coordinator, Mia Schultz, was able to procure more than a dozen photographs for the museum's exhibit that feature Bennington community members.

"I think that's really important because we're so much about both Bennington and Vermont as a whole, but really thinking about community and what a community is, who makes up a community, and how a community works," Franklin said. "And when people are coming in and seeing this, and seeing that this is part of our community, it gives them a different perspective of the rest of the museum."

A person holds up a dry-erase board that says Because I fight for my kids does not make me sensitive..... #IamVermontToo
Credit Courtesy
Mia Schultz is the site coordinator of the exhibit at the Bennington Museum. This photograph of Schultz also appears in the exhibit.

Shultz said there's a value in highlighting the experiences of people of color, even — or maybe especially — when it comes to the migroaggressions that frequently come their way.

"I think that there is a sense of isolation amongst people of color in Vermont. There's not many of us here and we sit in silence a lot and we deal with a lot of issues that don't get heard," Schultz said. "And so this is our way of being seen and being heard, and it's important that people know that we're here."

Schultz is not only the site coordinator, but appears in one of the exhibit's photographs. The portrait doesn't convey a single direct quote, but rather Schultz's perspective as a parent. The dry-erase board Schultz holds reads: "Because I fight for my kids does not make me sensitive....."

Schultz said she feels shut down when she raises concerns about her children being called racial names or hearing "Aryan white nationalist rhetoric" at local schools.

"And many times when I make these calls, I'm brushed aside as if I'm being too sensitive. ... So they just give me a little bit of lip service, and don't do any action behind it," Schultz said. "So that to me is my microaggression — that I can't fight for my kids the same way other people in the school fight for their kids and get results and get action."

According to Mouliert, there are talks under way about taking the exhibit to White River Junction and to Burlington.

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Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
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