Recounting a lifetime of daily discrimination
I’m always seen. I know. I can’t help it. You can’t help it when you see me walking down the street. You do a little double-take and try to figure out if she’s just passing through or if she lives here.
— Rose Archer
VERGENNES — Vergennes resident Alicia Grangent gets a pat-down search from TSA guards at the Burlington International Airport every time she travels.
She receives remarks about how she “might be more comfortable” if she lived in Burlington.
She said she is constantly being followed by store security when she shops.
And sometimes, the former Northlands Job Corps Center director, who is African American, is told she “sounds white” over the phone.
“People don’t see that, people don’t hear that, and people wonder why people are upset and angry,” Grangent told around 150 Vergennes-area residents gathered on the city green on Saturday afternoon to protest systematic racism and the recent police murder of George Floyd.
Grangent was one of two women of color who spoke about what it is like to be Black and American.
As event organizer and Waltham resident Liz Ryan put it, those who showed up were there “to open our minds and hearts to listen and learn.”
Grangent, who now works for mental health agency The Howard Center in Chittenden County, and recent Brandeis University graduate Rose Archer talked about the daily differences in the way they are treated.
Grangent ran through the above list to illustrate how she and other people of color are not just frustrated by one in a series of brutal incidents and a system that discriminates in education and housing, but also by dealing with a lifetime of daily discrimination.
She concluded that segment of her remarks with a story about making an appointment to rent an apartment, only to have the landlord put up an out-to-lunch sign when Grangent got out of her car.
When Grangent insisted on a tour, the landlord questioned whether she could afford the apartment and called for a police escort.
This was the woman who told Grangent she sounded white on the phone.
“Am I supposed to say thank you?” Grangent said. “No, you get sarcastic, crazy-look face, because that’s what she deserved.”
Grangent spoke of how she felt after seeing the video of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police.
“It triggered an emotion that I haven’t felt for a very long time. And that emotion was rage,” she said, adding she also “felt a sense of vulnerability.”
Grangent said she was happy to stay at home and work through her emotions, but still wasn’t sure if she was ready to speak out. The silent vigil Ryan organized on the city green the previous Saturday and attended by 250 convinced her to step forward, Grangent said.
“That helped me, to see every last one of you in this community showing your solidarity and support,” she said.
Grangent, who also detailed the racism she grew up with in small-town southern Illinois, said her experience in Vergennes has been largely positive, but not perfect by any means.
“I don’t have any issues with the police department here. I’ve not been harassed by anyone here. But people do have the perception that she’s a person of color. She must have a sketchy area,” she said. “People often ask me, and this happened last year when I went to get dog tags, ‘Are you still here?’”
She expressed what she wanted to accomplish by speaking.
“My hope is that you listen and find something in my speech that makes you look within yourself to help create the change that’s needed today. Everyone is not racist, and I hear that loud and clear. And I believe that with all my heart,” she said.
“Bias, however, does exist in this community. It exists within all of us and we must look in the mirror and have these difficult conversations. Because, in the end, now is the time.”
Archer, who closed the 75-minute event with the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a tribute to Abraham Lincoln that has been described as the Black national anthem, delivered a similar message.
The native of Trinidad and Tobago and her partner were traveling around New England and landed in Vergennes when Gov. Phil Scott issued his March stay-at-home order.
Archer said she has felt comfortable enough to remain, despite what she described as the usual issues for a person of color in Vermont.
“I’m always seen. I know. I can’t help it. You can’t help it when you see me walking down the street. You do a little double-take and try to figure out if she’s just passing through or if she lives here. How many times have I walked into my own apartment and had people question what I’m doing here?” she said.
Archer said she felt the same outrage as Grangent over the Floyd killing, the other killings of Blacks, and daily discrimination. And the same hesitation to speak out. And the same encouragement after seeing allies in the city park on June 6.
After talking with family, friends and advisers she decided to take the stage this Saturday.
“When I saw what happened on (the past) Saturday, it touched me so much,” Archer said. “I was worried there was no one else who wanted to do something about my cause. Because it’s not really my cause. It’s everyone’s cause.”
She asked similar questions of the crowd as Grangent: Had they ever been followed in stores? Had they ever worried that their choices of clothing marked them as targets? Had they ever had to adjust their words or body language so as not to appear to be threatening? Had they ever had to worry about their children interacting with the police?
Before her song, Archer concluded with a plea:
“Can we make it so that no one has to feel that anymore? And the first thing that we can do is hold ourselves and the people that we love accountable. We have to think about our own biases. The only way that we can grow is to know where we are. And sometimes it’s ugly. You don’t want to face that part of yourself,” she said.
“But that heavy baggage that you can so easily throw away is something that is projected onto my body everywhere I go, and that is the history that I have to live with. So it’s time to wake up and start living it, too. And this is not coming from a place of hate. It’s coming from a place of love, because I love every one of you. I love you enough to say this.”
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