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Transcript For 'Racism—And Anti-Racism—In Vermont'

This transcript is for the Vermont Edition showwhich aired Wednesday, June 3, 2020. 

Jane Lindholm: This is Vermont Edition. I'm Jane Lindholm. This last week has been an extremely challenging one for many Americans, including many Vermonters, as anger, grief, exhaustion and other strong emotions have been funneled into protests happening around the country. These protests were spurred by the killing of George Floyd, a 46 year old black man who was a father, a former high school football star, who had moved from his native Texas to Minnesota to find work a few years ago. The death of George Floyd sparked this round of protests, but it is part of a much larger picture. And in this iteration of the conversation about systemic racism in the U.S., there is a greater focus on the work white-identified people needs to do to dismantle that system. Today on Vermont's edition, we're going to talk about what's happening around the country and what racism looks like and feels like in Vermont. And we'll address what white Vermonters are doing to tackle racism and work on anti-racism. Xusana Davis is executive director for racial equity for the state of Vermont. She's going to join us alongside a number of other guests throughout the hour. Xusana, it's nice to have you on the program.

Xusana Davis: Thank you. It's great to be here.

Jane Lindholm: You know, you were talking in one of Governor Scott's press conferences earlier this week, the Monday press conference, about things that people can do right now to address racism, to be more anti-racist, to take action. And one of the things that you said was just do something, do something. And you're speaking specifically to white Vermonters on that. Why do white Vermonters need to do something now?

Xusana Davis: Well, one of the biggest misconceptions about equity, and I'm not just talking about racial equity, I mean equity for any marginalized group, LGBTQIA plus community, people living with disabilities, sex, gender, gender preference, gender identity, socioeconomic disparity, any kind of equity or justice work. One of the biggest misconceptions that dominant group members make is that it doesn't affect them. We hear a lot of times a lot of men think that women's rights don't affect them. We think that people who don't live with disabilities, they don't think that disability rights affect them. People who are heterosexual often think that LGBTQIA plus community issues don't affect them. And this is so untrue. The fact is that there is a collective benefit to equity and a collective harm of inequity. And so one of the things that I always, always urge are white Vermonters to remember is that racial equity, you may not see as many Vermonters of color as you as we hope eventually we do see in the state. But that doesn't mean, first of all, that we're not here. And second of all, that doesn't mean that it doesn't impact you. One example I like to give is that in 2015, if the state of Vermont had had wage equity between racial groups, that is to say, if people got paid the same or similar wages for the same work between ethnic groups, our state GDP would have been point for two billion with a B dollars higher. Everybody in the state benefits from a bigger, more robust economy. That's one out of many, many ways that you can see inequity. Racial inequity has a negative impact on everyone in the state. And the last thing I'd say is you know, another reason that it's really important for white Vermonters to do something specifically is because if it were up to subjugated people to end subjugation, it would be over by now. The fact that certain people hold more power and privilege in our society is up to those people to wield that power and privilege in a way that dismantles the inequity.

Jane Lindholm: You know, it's interesting to hear you talk first about the idea that equity benefits everyone, sort of trying to hit people in the idea that you will benefit if everybody has a fair playing field. It shouldn't have to take that, though, right? It shouldn't have to take the idea that I am personally going to benefit if other people are able to do well and are able to not be faced with racism or sexism or any of the other isms that, you know, that you that you brought into this. It shouldn't have to be that somebody can see a benefit to making sure that other people have equity.

Xusana Davis: Correct. It really shouldn't. We should care for equity for the sake of doing what's right. But for those who are not convinced by moral arguments. There's also a business case to be made. And that's one we just can't deny.

Jane Lindholm: When you bring in that intersectionality that there are so many people who have an extra hurdle to jump over based on their gender, based on having a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth or based on, you know, their race or based on their abilities. You know, does that that sort of intersectionality sometimes lose the focus that we have right now on the very specific ways that black Americans have suffered in this country? Because you can say, well, I'm a woman. So I also, you know, have had difficult things or, you know, I'm queer. I am also a marginalized person, that it sort of diffuses this notion of what's happening right now with the conversation about the ways that Black Americans have suffered and been treated over a couple hundred years now.

Xusana Davis: Sometimes we do hear people from different marginalized groups who do that sort of what about ism? And I think that's a tactic that dominant group members often use to divide people. Right, by saying, well, you know, your struggles are different than the struggles of this other marginalized group, but we'll prioritize your issues and then you can forget about supporting their issues. It's definitely a way that's used to divide people. And but I think far more often I see these different marginalized and historically oppressed groups coming together and really supporting one another's work. I'll give you one example. I have gotten so much support from different organizations around the state that are focused on women's issues who have said, listen, we know that in particular, women of color in Vermont doubly experienced discrimination at a number of turns along the way. And so our focus aligns with your focus and we want to help. So I think more often than not, we do see groups recognizing the intersectionality and wanting to help out in one another's causes.

Jane Lindholm: A lot of parents and educators are trying to think about how to talk to kids about racism and anti-racism and what a curriculum might or should look like that addresses both history and current events in the context of race and identity. So let's talk a little bit about that now. And we're joined by Xusana Davis and now by Erin Maguire, who's director of equity, diversity and inclusion in the Essex Westford School District. Hi, Erin. Nice to talk with you.

Erin Maguire: Hi, Jane. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Jane Lindholm: And Christie Nold, who's a sixth grade social studies teacher at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington. Christie, thank you for being on the program.

Christie Nold: Thank you so much. I'm really humbled to be a part of this lineup.

Jane Lindholm: Erin, could you talk a little bit about what you're doing in your district and in your life to address this as a way to talk to young people and specifically to do it in a school setting, not just for parents to talk to their own kids, but for schools to talk about race and racism and racial equity? What are you doing on this score?

Erin Maguire: Sure. Thank you for the opportunity. I think it's certainly important to recognize that schools are microcosms of society and we have an obligation to teach anti-racism just as we have the need to teach anti-bullying and against many harmful behaviors that can harm other people. Our focus has been around implicit bias and considering stereotyping, and we are just in the beginning stages of this work. We've also focused in on ensuring that all cultures hold equal value and beginning to talk about what that means for the perspectives that we teach through, the lenses that we use to teach through. So as you think about a Eurocentric or Western dominant lens and and how we teach stories, you can imagine how thinking about the colonization of the Americas might be taught very differently, for example, if it was taught through the lens of Native Americans. And so really beginning to think deeply about the language we use, the conversations we're having. And then the other piece that I would add is that we're working to make sure that teachers have the understanding that they aid and the training they need to be able to have these conversations. This is something that is sometimes hard for white people to talk about. I'm white and this gender, I'm able-bodied. I'm privileged. Those things are all true about me. And I would be able to recognize that, sit with that, understand the benefits that I receive because of that and how it impacts my conversations and my language as an educator in Vermont related to instructing around anti-racism in our schools.

Jane Lindholm: Christie Nold, when you talk about these things with students and with other professionals in your field, is there concern about how to address this at school without parents being worried about what their kids are being taught? I mean, does that sort of parental piece that so often comes into conversations about school curriculum come into this? And how do you address it?

Christie Nold: Absolutely. There is no question that engaging in anti-racist work, especially when engaging in it with integrity, is going to bring up a lot of feelings, especially among white folks. And there are scholars that have written much more eloquently than I can speak about. So thinking about Robin DiAngelo's "White Fragility", thinking about how Carol Anderson talks about white rage, thinking about the idea of white emotionality, all of those different ways of responding come up when confronted with a system of anti-racism because on its head, what the work aims to do is really it's about a dismantling. It's not just efforts to reform a system that's been broken, but it's really saying that this system at its very foundation was never intended and created for the students that it serves today. And rather than just reform that system, we really need to deconstruct it, dismantle it and think differently about how we center our youth. And so I would say that that brings up a lot for people and for folks who are entering this conversation for the first time. I think there is a whole language of the conversation that can be difficult to follow. And so I hope that as educators we can create some on ramps for people without doing what Paul Gorski calls as pacing for privilege, which is really moving at the rate of the slowest person in the room because we need to be moving with a much faster urgency. Lives are at stake.

Jane Lindholm: Can you talk, Christie, about you? You were at one of the protests over the weekend, the Burlington rally, with your students. And, you know, one of the things that you discuss is how your students of color are expressing to you what they feel about school as a safe space or not a safe space based on racism. Can you talk a little bit about what they say to you?

Christie Nold: Yes, certainly. I feel incredibly privileged to be able to be in conversation with such incredible young people and young leaders. I think what I heard on Saturday very clearly from the mic were young students from across the state who were speaking about their experiences in schools. And that is what I hear from my students on a daily basis. There's an amazing scholar, Kelly Wickham Hurst, who wrote at the beginning of COVID-19, wanting to trouble this idea of the site of trauma for many educators. There's a conversation about trauma as though it is always situated at home for young people and school as a safe place. And what Kelly posits is how many black students are actually thriving right now because they are out of the site of trauma that can be our schools. And so for how many of our black and brown students learning from home might actually be a place of love centered learning that they don't experience on a daily basis in our school? Yesterday, I had the incredible privilege to sit down with my student, Julia, and her mom, Emily Bernard. And one of the things that I heard Julia say was, I need white people to be speaking about this. I need them to be surrogates for my words because it's heard differently. And the fact that an eighth grade student has such deep understanding of critical race theory and analysis to be able to say, I need white folks to speak up and to bring voice to this conversation. And the fact that that is true, the fact that my saying it is going to land different than Julia, who has the lived and embodied experience of it, is something that I reckon with all of the time. I can get really in my head about this work. I can intellectualize it. I know that from my white body, I will never have the same experiences of my black and brown and indigenous students. And so what does it mean? And how do I use my white body to further leverage the words that they're speaking and do the work that has to be done within our schools?

Jane Lindholm: Xusana Davis, Julia also has at least one parent who writes about this and thinks about this and talks about this and then therefore is also presumably having conversations with her children. How do you think parents of all different backgrounds, but especially white parents who maybe have not had conversations about race and racism before and white privilege, how do you think they should be talking to their kids right now?

Xusana Davis: Perhaps the first thing, and I'm not you know, I don't come from a good early education background, I'm not an education practitioner. So I'll save most of that to the experts were on the line. But perhaps the first thing I would say is children are like sponges. We all know that they pick up on the things that we say and the ways in which we say them, if we treat conversations about race as if they're taboo and if we treat the topic of race as if it's taboo, children will pick up on that and they will internalize our discomfort and turn it into their discomfort. So it's especially important that white people and white parents gain comfort speaking about race, because your children do pick up on how you view it. The other thing I would say is that in the same way that you need age appropriate clothes and age appropriate media, you also want to talk to your children about hard-hitting social issues in age appropriate ways. And I'm reminded of one particular guide that I found very helpful is called Beyond the Golden Rule"". It's written by Dana Williams. And it's a guide for parents that is broken down by age group to help parents understand what are different ways and perspectives through which they can engage their children and conversations about equity.

Jane Lindholm: We got a note from a listener who says, as an educator, I'm happy to see lots of education related expertize on this show. I'd love to hear about some concrete strategies for centering racial equity in our schools and how that will have benefits for other forms of equity, as well as other school outcomes that we care about. Erin Maguire, could you address that?

Erin Maguire: You know, I think it's really so important to go out and look for resources that will help educators do that. I think about a myriad of books and stories that are available to share with children that value diversity within their context. And also that, you know, that idea that it's never too early to talk with children about race and the ability for even babies to be looking at different faces that don't necessarily match the race of their caregivers and children as young as five and being able to have expressions of racial prejudice and ways of explaining that and understanding it and speaking out against it. And so I do think training for educators is important. And we don't have time today necessarily to dive deep into a long list. But I think it's important that all school districts across our states develop a comprehensive list of concrete materials and trainings for our educators and as well as for our parents. I think the comments about providing support to white parents who may not know how to talk to their children about race is a really important piece. So agreed completely with the question. Concrete resources are critical need to be provided and accessible. And I also think that providing space for people to know each other in their differences is very important. We want to make sure that our our people who have been marginalized, whether we're talking about race or disability, have a space to be heard and listened to and believed within the context of the work of education and what we don't work on to them that relates to our need as well as white people to know and understand our role. It is helpful to be able to hear about those experiences and have training that provides access to an understanding of how the marginalization has played out in history and for individuals.

Jane Lindholm: Well, and Erin, you've also been working to try to get the legislature to pass an update to the ethnic and social equity studies standards for schools, right?

Erin Maguire: Yes. That that's been work that's happened across the state from many people and really supporting that grateful and appreciative to the legislatures call to examine racism and social justice, both educationally as well as some of the works that the governor's office have done to call out the need in Vermont. Yes.

Jane Lindholm: You know, there's so much more to talk about with race and history and school curriculum. So this is just a taste. But Erin and Christie, I want to thank you both for bringing this to our attention and having us start to think about it in this show. Thanks to both of you for being on the program.

Erin Maguire: Thanks so much.

Christie Nold: Yeah. Thank you for having me.

Jane Lindholm: That's Erin Maguire, who's director of Equity, Diversity and inclusion at the Essex Westford School District. And Christie Nold, a sixth grade social studies teacher at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington. Let's go to Nancy, who's calling in from Putney. Hi, Nancy. What's your experience?

Caller, Nancy: Yeah. Oh, I am the owner of everyone's books in downtown Brattleboro. And I just wanted to say that there's been an incredible amount of people coming in and purchasing and expressing interest in diversity of books, especially for people on how to fight racism in our culture. And we've been selling stuff for people of all ages. And some of the books that people really are jumping onto are how to be an anti-racist and a book called "Me and White Supremacy". And another one called "Stamp From the Beginning". And there's been a whole slew of people buying stuff for children. And we sell Black Lives Matter yard signs, although we're out of them right now and we're waiting for more. I just wanted to let people know that at least in the Brattleboro area, lots and lots and lots of people are self educating and also putting bumper stickers on their car, wearing the t-shirts, doing, you know, really trying to speak out and make sure people understand that this is a time that white people, as well as people of color all need to step up and make change. And we're getting tons of them in or phoning or e-mailing. So I just want to say I'm proud of my community in that way.

Jane Lindholm: Well, good. I'm glad to hear it, Nancy. And if you want to go to, click on today's Vermont Edition. You can share the list of books that people are buying and maybe others will be able to see it. Denise wrote in to say, I now understand that when we white people state black lives matter, it must come from a daily practice, a daily integration of new thinking. We white people can do something. We can avoid the egocentric, white, privileged approach to fixing things. Black people know how to take care of themselves. Black people know what is best for them. And Emily tweets in to say, it's uncomfortable to be white and face our legacy, but the only way to change it is to open up and listen, read and study and work for change. Be anti-racist. This should be on your mind already and know Vermont isn't a little different. We have fewer black citizens, but that doesn't mean we aren't racist and steeped in white supremacy. And let's go now to Patrick, who's calling in from Burlington. Hi, Patrick. How are you?

Caller, Patrick: Very well, thanks. Thanks for taking my call. So just but to the education piece. I'm going to give a specific example. In our elementary and middle schools, there are a bunch. It's very diverse, much more diverse than it was in the 90s. But these students don't see themselves represented in the administrative or teaching stuff. And so we need role models in our schools, in our educational system. We have seen the rhetoric. We've heard that this classroom for years and years and years. And that's a step forward, the awareness. But we need to get to this stage of implementation where we see people of color being hired and not just to mid-level or lower level jobs, but also in senior level positions. So this is important to move the dial along. I have worked hard contributing to the awareness to education here in Vermont. It was not too long ago I had Benjamin Crump, who is now representing the floors here in Vermont, talking about, you know, the racism in our criminal justice system. I had Anita Hill here twice talking about gender inequality, gender issues, race, class and gender. And so we've come a long way and still have a longer way to go. I am also going to say that in the very early nineties, I lived the Rodney King Solidarity March where we had almost 2000 people in downtown Burlington from that time to today. Not much has changed.

Jane Lindholm: Patrick, I'm going to leave that there because I think that is an important thing to say. You're working your community organizer, you're bringing speakers, but you also say not much has changed. And so this is a moment then to think about what could change for those who want to see change. What is it? How do you make it happen? Xusana Davis is sticking with us for talking about racism and anti-racism in Vermont and hearing from many of you who have thoughts to share as well. Cathy in Royalton says, I'm nearly 62 and white. I moved to Vermont in 1981. I somehow thought Vermonters were immune to racism. How could we be racist when we are so white? Around 15 years ago, I attended a church workshop on racism that opened with films of actual Vermont events like hidden cameras showing Vermonters in action, a landlord who squirmed when meeting a black tenant, a job interview with an application that looks terrific. But when a black interviewee shows up, they're never told why they don't get the job. This film was credible not just because it was coming from my church, but I realized I had seen the same myself. It caused me to open my eyes, at least some. I'm still working on opening my eyes. I want so much for racial justice to remain a top issue now because the breadth of its impact is enormous and devastating. And Peg wrote in to say, you say do something as a 78 year old home bound white female. What can I do? Xusana Davis, what can someone like Peg do, what should someone like Peg do?

Xusana Davis: The first thing Pegs or someone like Peg can do, she's already done, which is to ask the question to demonstrate that this is an issue that deserves attention. And I could run through a whole laundry list. I'm working on getting something published on the state's websites about ways to get involved. It is a bit lengthy. So and I'm hoping to be able to do that the next day or two. But I'm just gonna run through a couple of really quick things that folks can do. And the important thing is that you are not just doing sort of token symbolic things that aren't moving the needle. I mean, those are important to symbolic gestures are important because they demonstrate solidarity and they let people know that you stand with them and that you stand for justice. However we've been doing this work for so long and so little has changed to what really matters is that we're doing things that can move the needle and you don't have to have, you know, advanced degrees and credentials. You don't have to even leave your house, really. So here are a few things that we can do. Find out from your local or county level or state level law enforcement agencies to find out if they outfit their officers with body worn cameras and dash cams, which have been demonstrated to help keep law enforcement accountable for their conduct. And it also protects police officers as well by documenting incidents. If you are unable to find out that information or if you find out that they don't have body worn cameras, write to your local representatives, write to the chiefs and the sheriffs and those who are in leadership in law enforcement to advocate for that. Tell a friend to do the same and multiply your voice. You can find out about what are the training and de-escalation policies that your local and county and state level law enforcement agencies are adhering to. If they don't have policies on the books, write to your reps and advocate for some. The Vermont State Police have made really great strides with its fair and impartial policing policy, and there's a whole lot more work to do. I don't pretend for a second that that VSP necessarily is has got it all figured out, but I think that they really have done a lot of forward thinking work on this topic. And they're a great model for other agencies around the state to look, to think about things like incarceration and mandatory minimums, keep abreast of bills that are coming through the legislature today. More than ever, our state legislators have been holding meetings through digital platforms. So you're able to actually listen to what's being said in hearings if you find that an issue might have a negative racial impact. Take the opportunity to testify or to contact your representative or a member of the committee and voice that concern. You can choose to frequent or not, frequent businesses that adhere to certain social justice practices and policies. For example, what companies are advertising on webites that promote hate. Right. Believe it or not, companies like even Whole Foods advertise on media sites that are labeled as white supremacists media. That is to say, they're funding those websites. Do you buy from companies that use prison labor? Do you buy from companies or do you live in a town that's invested in the Dakota access pipeline? You know, do you support minority owned businesses? So there are these are just a few of very, very many things that people can do to get involved.

Jane Lindholm: Xusana mentioned the Vermont State Police, but of course, policing is a big issue when it comes to race in Vermont and elsewhere and so is prison reform. Eesha Williams writes in, I live in Vermont. No nation keeps such a high percentage of its people in prison as the USA. Europe's rate is a third of ours. The U.S. prison system is racist. That's according to the book "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander. Vermont's prison system is one of the most racist among the 50 cents states, Eesha writes. Vermont sends prisoners to a private prison in Mississippi. The Vermont state legislature needs to raise taxes on rich people and use the money on programs that have worked in Europe to reduce the number of people in prison. Let's bring in two more guests now. Tabitha Moore is founder and president of the Rutland area NAACP. Tabitha, it's nice to talk with you.

Tabitha Moore: Thanks for having me.

Jane Lindholm: And Mark Hughes is co-founder and executive director of Justice for All, a grassroots organization working towards racial justice within Vermont's criminal justice system. He's also education coordinator for Vermont's Racial Justice Alliance and a member of Burlington's Police Commission, which reviews citizen complaints, officer discipline and personnel matters of the city police department. Mark, I'm glad to have you with us today.

Mark Hughes: Glad to be here, Jane. Thanks for having me.

Jane Lindholm: Could you address what Eesha wrote in to talk about Vermont's prison system? Eesha says is racist.

Mark Hughes: Yeah, it's a big one, Jane. It's a it's a big one because whose prison system is not racist? The whole system. That was designed to be called the prison system was a racist idea. You know, we were founded as a racist nation. We were racist before. We were a nation, a nation. Every construct in our society is racist in terms of the fabric of this society in what we refer to as systemic racism. So, of course, our prison system is racist. And they also happen to have higher disparities in the system than most prisons do proportionally. I think some of this work is what led me in through the work of justice for all and what was in the Racial Justice Reform Coalition. To begin to look at some of these things, I was on the phone with the attorney general a couple times this morning talking about Xusana's point policy that's in play right now. We're looking at know how do we also implement policies where data collection on use of force and the appropriate use of force, de-escalation and cross-cultural awareness policy is in place. I think, you know, this and other reforms across the entire so-called criminal justice system are important as they are across all other systems of state government to include housing and education, employment, health services, access. And I think the big one that nobody seems to want to talk about is the one that actually does us the most damage. And that is the economic one, understanding that systemic racism is the unjustly gained political and economic power of whites and the continuing economic and other resource inequalities along racial lines, is Joe Fagan, the author of "Racist America" quotes, so indeed, the prison systems are racist. The entire idea is and we've been working on part of that and our work has expanded out to address all systems of government. And we've been working tirelessly to move policy to that effect. And I would just add in terms of addressing racism yields, instead of sitting around and having conversations about the fact that we're not racist, you know, focusing on systemic racism has to be intentional. It has to be economically focused first. There are multiple ways in which it must be done simultaneously, starting with an age, ending with data collection, equity and inclusion policy, systemic racism training, racial impact assessments on existing and emerging policy of racial equity revisions and appointment processes, as well as hiring processes to Patrick's point in organizational integration to hold people accountable. But in what? In a few words, yes. The prison system is racist.

Jane Lindholm: Tabitha Moore, given what Mark was just talking about, you know, this is a moment where perhaps some people are having conversations or thinking about these issues in a way they haven't before. Now, for many people, these are conversations that are ongoing all the time. But in this moment, what are you hoping for or pushing forward with right now that you think we might be able to accomplish in Vermont and beyond?

Tabitha Moore: Well, I think Mark pointed to a few of the legislative items that we're currently all trying to support and get through. And a lot of those right now are dealing with with policing. But there are also some other initiatives in the legislature that support our Abenaki brothers and sisters and our LGBTQIA community. All of those things are important and it's important that we're doing them as one. So legislatively, here's a lot going on that people should be paying attention to. I think Xusana pointed out that people have greater access. So if you are homebound or even if you're not but you have time or you are interested, I'm starting to tune in to some of the committee meetings that are going on. It's going to be critical. Some of the other things we're pushing for on the more local level would be, especially because individual white people now are starting to say, oh, my gosh, this is terrible. What do I do? You recognize that you have more power than you think in your place of work. Talking about white supremacy in a way that shows that talking about racial injustice and saying how did we get to this place in our system and why aren't we talking about race? Having this uncomfortable conversation has to start happening. The way that we're perpetuating it is critical. And a lot of people who've never thought about this book and say, well, you know, I don't see how we're doing it. Well, if you don't know, then you need to hire an expert or you need to be talking to people in your community. People of color or other disenfranchised populations and saying, you know, what is your experience here?

Jane Lindholm: Well, as these conversations are happening and as we see protests happening around Vermont and around the nation, we got a note from Sha'an, who has worked on racial justice projects in many Vermont communities. And Sha'an writes in and says, I've noticed how many gatherings to support racial justice have sprouted up recently. Some of these involve the leadership of people of color. Some don't. They're white folks who feel the need to do something. This is the time when white folks should be taking leadership, should be taking leadership from people of color. One gathering happened yesterday in Lyndonville and another is planned for this Friday in St. Johnsbury. There was no outreach to POC leaders. What did the panelists think about this particular quirk in Vermont and how would they advise white folks wanting to work with people of color in supporting racial justice in a meaningful way? So, Tabitha, what about that? You know that, this is a moment then for for white people to step up and think about things and maybe talk about them differently. You're saying. But how to Sha'an's point, do you not then tamp down or speak over the voices of people of color in this movement?

Jane Lindholm: It is kind of a fine balance Sha'an is absolutely right that if you are going to be talking about race and racism in a ways that it shows up in your old, there's conversations that white people need to be having by themselves. There's conversations that black people on people of other races may be having by ourselves. But at the same time, there's conversations that need to be happening together. And so if you're going to be doing public demonstrations to talk about your outrage about racism taught us to do that without us. It is neglectful at best. So think about what you're trying to accomplish. If you're trying to show solidarity with somebody, you should probably make sure that those people, a, want that solidarity be needed in that way. And so feel comfortable with the ways that you're trying to do it. That's not to say that the work then becomes the work of the people of color, but the white people do need to be congregating and speaking with themselves and then approaching the people of color in their lives to say, you know, is this appropriate to that? I think it's also important to note that this doesn't mean that all white people should go out and talk to their one black friend and say, hey, am I doing this right? It means that you need to do a lot of work educating yourself. I think somebody mentioned the book "White Fragility". That's a great place for white people to start. And then thinking about how that informs your lines and how you approach people and be prepared for pushback. This conversation has been happening for centuries. This is not new information. I don't think any of us are saying anything that black and brown people have not been saying for decades. The difference is that somebody mentioned what was it called, the progress that the pace of progress is that based on the lowest common denominator? No, that's true. That's what's happening. Civil rights. We haven't come that far because white folks, by and large, forget in those moments where there aren't three people murdered in a week that this is an issue. So why people I suggest that you go out, you buy, you know, books like White Fertility. Somebody mentioned "The New Jim Crow". There's all kinds of resources out there. Educate yourself. Talk with other white people about that. We don't necessarily need to hear your thoughts on that. What we need to know is what you're going to do with that to change the system that you're benefiting from.

Jane Lindholm: Mark, do you think this is a moment where you're optimistic for hope, where you think there could be a change?

Mark Hughes: Absolutely. I've always been optimistic. I was just talking to a good friend this morning about that, despite what we're what we're looking at here. And this is one thing that, you know, black people have historically always carried forward, whether it's been our religion, whether it's been that that gospel song or whether it's just been, you know, some kind, even if it's R&B song or just something in the heart or something in the spirit, we are a resilient people. We will be OK. So I am I am confident that we're going to get on the other side of this as a nation. I would add to that to say that, you know, I find it, you know, again, apropos and very illuminating that we're at a point where the deaths of black and brown people have increased, too, to the extent to where it seems that it would be almost unbearable for us across this nation. And I say increased because black and brown people have been dying at disproportionate rates of white people throughout all English colonial time. So this is this is not a new hat. I would just say that there is hope. You know, I think we for white people who are showing up to Tabitha's point, if you showing up, you know, to the battle right now, I would just say welcome. Thanks for showing up. Glad to have you. And I would also say that, you know, if you ever watched a war movie pay close attention to the new guys, because what they're supposed to do is they're supposed to show up and listen. They're not supposed to create their own platoon. They're not supposed to find another hill, because if they're not careful, they're going to get somebody hurt or worse. So welcome. There's a lot of stuff going on if you slow down for a minute. Take a deep breath. We're gonna get through this. If you want to look out at Look at We've got webinars that are going all of the time. Hundreds of people were signed up for those. You can jump in there. There's a legislative agenda that has been in place for years. You can now jump on that because it makes sense. It should make more sense to you, too. Now, so welcome to the to the to the battle. This is this is we haven't even gotten to the war yet. And if you want to look at this thing in terms of sports, we might we may have just gotten through the first inning, but we are in a bit of a global pandemic right now where black and brown people are getting sick and dying at highly disproportionate rates and being asked to go back to work at highly disproportionate rate because we can't hold jobs that keep us at home. In the end, the economy continues to open and we're dealing with rather fluid at the same time. So welcome. This is our world now. Most of you should see now that it doesn't make any difference what kind of policy you try to put forward if you don't take care of this original sin. This is where you're going to find yourself.

Jane Lindholm: Well, let's leave that there for now. As I said, this conversation going and a lot of different directions. And maybe we can focus on future shows on just one of them at a time. And I appreciate Mark and Tabitha, both of you, sharing your perspectives and your ideas for moving forward from this moment. Mark Hughes is co-founder and executive director of Justice for All, which works on racial justice in Vermont's criminal justice system. He's also the education coordinator for Vermont's Racial Justice Alliance and a member of Burlington's police commission. Mark, thank you very much.

Mark Hughes: What a pleasure. Take care.

Jane Lindholm: You, too. And Tabitha Moore is founder and president of the Rutland area NAACP. Tabitha, it's a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you.

Tabitha Morre: Thanks for doing the work with us.

Jane Lindholm: And we're joined as well now by Rajnii Eddins. Rajnii is a poet, an author, a facilitator and an educator. It's nice to talk with you again.

Rajnii Eddins: Oh, thank you for having me.

Jane Lindholm: How are you feeling and thinking about this particular moment?

Rajnii Eddins: I feel like this time is a crucial opportunity for people to have that much heralded revolution in human conscience and morality seems to be consistently beset with these tragedies. And usually they're localized as isolated incidences. But it seems like there's much more opportunity now to see the glaring reality and face it more forthrightly.

Jane Lindholm: You think that'll really happen?

Rajnii Eddins: I think as long as we have, like, an breathily of time, no. Choose it. So it depends on all of our works collectively.

Jane Lindholm: Are you seeing a different tone or tenor to the conversation right now? Because you know that it's not that you haven't been seeing this. It's not that you haven't been working on issues of equity and racism and culture. But you're saying there's a chance that those who haven't been, including those in power, may do it now, but that that's not really something you get to control. Are you seeing a difference here in that in the conversation at large? Do you think?

Rajnii Eddins: I think what we're seeing now is new because it's a new year. It's a new day. We have gone in cycles historically, but I think collectively we utilize it as an opportunity to really serve our human needs with equity. And it can be transformational. I'm hopeful. But I think that it just relies on each individual person's integrity as a human being to kind of claim humanity as a priority more than whiteness.

Jane Lindholm: Well, let's go to Reuben, who's calling in from Washington, D.C. This is Reuben Jackson, a former VPR employee who now no longer lives in Vermont. Reuben, nice to hear your voice. Nice to talk with you.

Caller, Reuben: Yeah. How are you doing?

Jane Lindholm: I'm okay. What are you thinking about? How are you coming into this conversation?

Caller, Reuben: Well, this is maybe more personal and I don't know would say humanistic because it's the poet in me. But one of the things I wanted to say and often felt I lived there for seven years was the struggle which wore me out. Ultimately, it was based on the fact that you have to deal with the reality not just in Vermont, but everywhere, that racism is systemic. And I think just like the goodness which exists in Vermont, I have had a long time to root itself, thank goodness. I think the racism is deeply dug in. So. And like the rest of the country, Vermont is struggling with what I call demographic anxiety. It's like, oh, all these people who don't look like us. And how do we handle the unknown is as human beings. The second part of this is having to deal with the constant. No, it doesn't happen here. Or people who, God bless them, kind of misquote the state constitution. So I often felt as if it's like you're in a ring and you're being bitten by two dogs and you have like bites on your leg when you go to the doctor and the doctor says, no, that didn't happen here. So I guess to sum that up, except that it's possible that there is work to be done. And I understand books have their role in this, but it's it really is kind of getting in the dirt and seeing where each of us is coming from, as we used to say back in the day, because to quote Biggie Smalls, he said "you don't know, but now, you know", and I didn't realize how much reads I was carrying until this most recent murder. I mean, I'm a fairly angry person where this is going to serve, but I mean, just cauldrons and cauldrons of anger. So that's each of us, whether anxiety or contemplation, you know, just kind of sit and see where we're where we are and I guess go forward the best way we can.

Jane Lindholm: Reuben, I hear you on that. And I hear you, you know, using that phrase, you don't know, now, you know. Rajnii Eddins, we started this conversation talking a little bit about how parents can talk to children and how families and schools can have this conversation. You also work with kids. How are you talking to young people about what they're experiencing and seeing here?

Rajnii Eddins: I think the greatest gift you can give, one of the greatest gifts you can offer to young people is respecting and recognizing their own intelligence and capacity for critical thinking. So I think just communicating to them with candor, being willing to listen and not patronize the paternalistic in your manner towards youth cause a great deal of a long way. And I think, you know, youth often spot the hypocrisy of adults because they notice the discomfort that we have. Sometimes we have in terms of communicating honestly about these things like race and racism. But we need to don that armor of courage and respect for human dignity to serve them and model well.

Rajnii Eddins: Rajnii Eddins is a poet, author, facilitator and educator. One of these days I am going to get you to read your own poem on the air. So we'll have to have you back. Thanks for being with us today.

Rajnii Eddins: My honor. Thanks for holding space.

Jane Lindholm: Xusana Davis. You know, any final thoughts on where people can go with this conversation, what the next concrete step might be for someone listening?

Xusana Davis: Yeah, you know, first of all, I have read Rajnii's work. Yes, go ahead and buy "White Fragility" by Robin DiAngelo, but I bought Rajnii's book, and I am better for it because it's very deep and it's very telling. I will say that, you know, I'm reminded in this conversation of a saying that we have in Spanish, "el maco no es pez porque está en el agua" which translates to "you can't call a frog a fish just because it's in the water." And you think about something that Tabitha said. She said, make sure that people not only need your help, but that it's the correct kind of help that you're offering. So it's really important that white folks here check in with communities of color and not just say, I want to help, but make sure that you're helping in a way that the community actually needs.

Jane Lindholm: Well, Xusana, we're going to leave that there, but we're gonna continue this conversation tomorrow talking about race, identity and belonging in Vermont. I appreciate you for being here today. Xusana Davis, executive director for racial equity for the state of Vermont. Xusana, thank you so much.

Xusana Davis: Thank you. It's been great.

Jane Lindholm: And again, we'll carry this on tomorrow. I'm Jane Lindholm. Thanks for listening to Vermont Edition today.

Emily was a Vermont Edition producer at Vermont Public Radio until September 2021.
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