Rose Archer: It’s not enough just to listen

VERGENNES RESIDENT ROSE Archer on Saturday gave the last of her well-received anti-racism presentations on the city green for the Voices in the Park series. Archer urged the almost 40 attendees to engage other citizens in non-threatening conversations about race.

Hold your loved ones especially even more accountable. Tell them you cannot stand it, you will not stand it, because you love them. That’s tough love.
— Rose Archer

VERGENNES — Rose Archer made it clear she appreciated the fact that dozens of her fellow Vergennes residents had come to the city green several times this summer to hear her speak about the virus of racism that infects this country and her own experience with it, and the fact they share her desire to find a cure. 
“You don’t know the answer. I don’t know the answer,” Archer said Saturday in the last in a series of Voices in the Park anti-racism events.
“But what I do know is that we came here to try to find it. But what I do know is that every week I have done this I have seen a lot of your faces continuously, and I thank you for that.”
Unlike every other person who attended Saturday’s gathering except one, Archer is Black. At the age of 21 the native of Trinidad and Tobago is also less than half the age of most attendees. 
She made another point clear. 
Her audience of almost 40 people needed to start acting, to have the challenging conversations with friends and loved ones that Archer and others active in the anti-racism movement say are vital steps in the struggle for racial equality and understanding.  
“It is not enough to come here and listen to me in the park and do these workshops. And I’m pretty sure you all know that,” Archer said. “But today I want you to truly take that with you.”
As well as offering role-playing exercises, Archer asked the crowd question about why they had come to the events. Regular Voices in the Park attendee and Ferrisburgh resident Clark Keenan responded. 
“I don’t want to see people I know and care about make racist comments because they have racist feelings,” Keenan said. “There are several people I want to talk to more, and I’m kind of torn between it’s more trouble than it’s worth, I’ll just make matters worse. That’s what I’m wrestling with.”  
Archer urged Keenan and others in the same situation to speak up and not allow “normalization” of such comments, and offered a template.
“What you can do, and what everyone can do, is say, ‘I will not tolerate that in my space,’” Archer said. “Because what that shows is there are more and more people who are less and less tolerant (of such speech) … It may take three or four people saying that’s not cool.”

Archer, who announced she was leaving Vergennes soon, has been a mainstay of the half-dozen Voices in the Parks events. 
They have been organized by Waltham’s Lizbeth Ryan, who obtained permits for the series, which started with a silent vigil not long after police murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. 
At the second event the one other Black person in this past Saturday’s crowd, city resident Alicia Grangent, spoke, followed by brief remarks from Archer. Archer spoke at three more, including Saturday’s, and Vergennes Union High Schoolers led discussion groups at another. 
Archer plans to keep the series alive online, with details to follow. 
“I will continue to do this work with you,” she said. 
Ryan, while introducing Archer, previewed her central message. 
“This work is far, far, from being done,” Ryan said. 
After a moment of silence to recognize tragic events in Kenosha, Wisc., Archer spent much of her speech driving that message home.
She described the summer series as first a recovery from what was the shock of the Floyd murder, to then a quest for knowledge, to then being willing to act against personal and institutional racism. 
“At first our purpose was to come here together to heal, to feel that there was something to be done, to feel that we were doing something. But just because you come here and sit in the park and you hear my words does not mean you are done. I’m not done being Black. I’m not being done being anti-racist after I leave. I’m not done living, struggling, surviving after I leave,” Archer said.
What does it mean to be Black?
“It might be someone walking behind me in a store because they’ve never seen me in here,” Archer said. “But what if that’s the 100th person that’s done that to me in a week?”
Or: “As a person of color I’ve been told I’m not Black enough. I’ve also been told I’m not Asian enough. I’ve also been told I’m not white enough. So what the hell am I supposed to be?”
Or: “When I have to enter a certain type of room with power authorities, I have to make myself small so they don’t notice me, so they don’t feel like I’m a threat, so they feel like I’m professional so they will listen to what I have to say. Other than that I’m just another angry Black woman that comes into their office.”

The larger point, Archer said, is that just as she has to be constantly reminded of her status of being Black, white people should also understand the privilege that comes with their status, and also the bias that can be culturally and personally instilled along with it. 
“I have to be hyper-aware that I’m Black so that you don’t feel racist. I’m going to let that sit. That you don’t know when you are racist, but I am hyper-aware of my existence as Black, so that you do not feel racist,” she said.
“Just as I am hyper-aware of what my pigmentation can do for me when I step into a room, that means you have to be hyper-aware of what your pigmentation does for you. And that is a fact. It is too deeply ingrained into our society, into our education systems, and into our political systems … It’s here. We have to tackle it head-on.”
Part of that how begins with those tough conversations, Archer said. She tempered her own emotion with a reminder that such conversations must be non-confrontational if they are to be productive. 
“I would love each and every one of you to find a spark of joy of childhood in this, in trying to have a different kind of conversation that isn’t based off of malice, that isn’t trying to get your point across, where you’re just trying to understand. We’ve been pushing our opinions on each other a lot. I think today we all just have to go home and think for ourselves how do we want to move forward,” she said. 
And maybe the cure for the virus will spread, Archer said. 
“I want this to be a community effort. Hold everyone accountable. Hold you especially accountable. Hold your loved ones especially even more accountable,” she said. 
“Tell them you cannot stand it, you will not stand it, because you love them. That’s tough love. It’s time for us to put our money where our mouth is.”

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