Rose Archer: Step up and be antiracist
It’s not just a movement. Please make this a lifestyle. Just like I live being Black, we all have to live being anti-racist.
— Rose Archer
VERGENNES — “Relaxation is a privilege. It’s complicity,” Rose Archer told the gathering of about 40 on the Vergennes green this past Saturday afternoon.
Archer, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who grew up mostly in Newark, N.J., and is a recent graduate of Brandeis University, is also one of Vergennes’ newest residents. On July 11 she became the latest to address an anti-racist event on the city green.
Back on June 13 Archer described to another gathering there the microaggressions she faced as a person of color in a small Vermont town, such as being asked if it really was her apartment she was entering.
On that day she acknowledged she had hesitated to speak out in her hometown,
But Archer also said on June 13 a well-attended June 6 vigil on the city green after the murder of George Floyd gave her enough hope and confidence in her fellow residents to step forward that Saturday and speak and sing after Alicia Grangent’s longer speech.
And on July 11 that confidence shone in her opening remarks, an interactive session that followed, and a conclusion that drew sustained applause.
Archer’s central message: It’s not enough not to be racist. One must be anti-racist, and whites have to step up to the plate.
“Once we stop making it my problem, and your problem, and turn it into our problem, that’s when we finally take a step forward, and we can make it an agenda,” Archer said.
“You’re all looking at me to tell you what to do. I’ll tell you what to do. Go home. Study. Open a book. Go on Google. Go on Instagram. #BlackLivesMatter. #TruthsNobodyWantsToKnow. #MyWhiteHistory. #YourWhiteFragility. It’s OK. My Blackness is fragile, too. I have only just recently come into my Blackness. So come into your whiteness. Join me.”
Archer first explained coming to understand her Blackness in a U.S. system rigged against people of color — after simply being a person in the Caribbean.
“My life has been a series of questions at the intersection of who I am. I never really understood the concept of being Black or being African-American until I moved to Newark,” she said.
There, she said, her family became the first immigrant homeowners at the edge of rival gang territories, and then watched as a recession caused many Black homeowners to be evicted.
She soon learned about her own obstacles.
“My mother instilled in me the fact that on top of me being Black and an immigrant I was also a woman. And that in this world I would have to work two, if not three, times as hard as anyone else just to get a seat at the table,” she said.
“I was told I was sweet and I spoke very well. And I was pretty and talented and I was well-educated, and that was my privilege. That those qualities were the filters that would help people see past my Blackness and see the person that I am.”
She saw the economic injustice around her.
“What happens when all the poor people have to live together with all the poor people, and all the rich people get to live together with all the rich people? Why are there such disparities?” she said, adding, “Why were we, the Black people, why were all the neighborhoods we lived in … constantly falling behind? … And what was I supposed to do about all of that? After all, I only recently became Black?”
Archer introduced the interactive piece: Five posters posing reflective questions that listeners were asked to wander among and answer briefly.
Sample questions: gender, sexual preferences, words responders would use to describe themselves and others would use to describe them, and racial and ethnic identities and people’s understanding of them.
“This is not about me,” Archer said. “This is about all of us and the community of Vergennes, and what can we do. And from the start, like I said in my last speech, we need to know where we are. And this is a fresh start. We need to know who we are as a community.”
Afterward Archer led a brief discussion. Some answers were not clear.
Such as the fact the crowd identified as predominantly female:
“Why are there a lot of women here, and not a lot of men?” Archer said. “This has been a big question about a lot of movements, especially the Black Lives Matter movement. Why can’t we get the men in the room? Or, why don’t men come to the room?”
A quick poll showed many attendees could collect or soon collect Social Security, including the event permit holder, Lizbeth Ryan of Waltham.
Archer didn’t see that as a negative.
“Sixty to 70. That’s our cohort. But that means something for us, that you’re all leaders,” she said.
Archer had a different take on the positive self-evaluations.
“Why are we so hung up on image? Why is there such a lack of ‘negative,’ and I’m going to put some quotes around that, negative traits?” she said.
“One word I could use to describe myself is tired. I am tired. I’m not going to lie. I did not sleep much last night. Or plenty of the nights before that. I could have used anxious. We could have used inadequate. Overwhelmed. But why are we so focused on this image? I think that’s one of the things that us as a community, as Vergennes, have to figure out, ask ourselves.”
Archer said part of the reality of Vergennes is that many who didn’t attend the event don’t share a positive image of the city and don’t understand the negativity directed at people of color, or the backlash directed at those who stand up for racial equality and change.
And bringing them on board is the hard work that needs to be done, Archer said.
“People publicize (the positive). But what we don’t publicize are the microaggressions. What we don’t publicize is the lack of conversations we actually have. The fact we can all sit here in the park and feel like this is all OK, because if I go to that Black Lives Matter sign, I’m pretty sure every single one of you said you understood that,” she said.
A WAY FORWARD?
What is needed, Archer said, are conversations with those who weren’t in the park, or who feel threatened by BLM signs.
“Is there anyone here who would be willing to have that conversation with these folks? Do we know these folks? Is there anyone who has had that conversation with these folks yet?” she said. “Our initiative as a community is to get us all on the same page of understanding.”
Archer described her own difficult discussions.
“Some of the most fruitful conversations that I’ve had have ruffled my feathers. Ooh, they’ve made me shake in places that I didn’t think I could shake, have tested my will power. And maybe I was wrong. And maybe they were right. Or maybe we were both right. Why can’t we both be right?” she said.
“There are questions we ask ourselves. There are questions we need to ask other people and not be afraid to ask other people. This is only the start of a movement. It’s not just a movement. Please make this a lifestyle. Just like I live being Black, we all have to live being anti-racist.”
Archer pointed to history, linking lynchings and unnecessary deaths at the hands of law enforcement to systemic oppression that began with the founding of the nation.
“We also have to remember who was in the room when this country was built. I think only one person who signed the Declaration of Independence was not a slaveowner,” Archer said. “So who did they stand for? So my question is as a member of the generation of now is who will you stand for?”
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