Letter to the editor: Students misguided in opposing Mt. Abe’s BLM flag
I read in the Addison Independent that some students from Mt. Abraham Union High School were uncomfortable with their high school flying the Black Lives Matter flag. And that some of those students were “excused” and did not have to physically attend school.
I am a white woman of Irish, Scottish and Dutch descent. I am 71 years old. I have had many years to develop my discomfort, my awareness, and my acknowledgment of the racism that is bound up in our country’s history.
One-hundred-sixty-seven years after Frederick Douglass gave his speech in Rochester, N.Y., July 5th, “What to the American slave is your 4th of July?” I attended a gathering at the Rokeby Museum in Ferrisburgh, Vt. We read aloud excerpts of Frederick Douglass’s speech.
I read Frederick Douglass describing the human beings forced to march from the Potomac to the slave market in New Orleans: “The drove moves tardily. Heat and sorrow have nearly consumed their strength; suddenly you hear a quick snap, like the discharge of a rifle; the fetters clank, and the chain rattles simultaneously; your ears are saluted with a scream, that seems to have torn its way to the center of your soul. The crack you heard was the sound of the slave-whip: the scream you heard was from the woman you saw with the babe. Her speed had faltered under the weight of her child and her chains! That gash on her shoulder tells her to move on.”
It was an emotional experience for me. I read. I wept.
After this experience, I finally got around to say aloud, “Our country was built on the backs of slaves. First, the land was stolen from Native Americans.” This hideous history needs to be owned by white America. I fit into that category. As we move along a responsible path of reconciliation, consider the directive of Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) in Montgomery, Ala. In order to experience “a new era of truth and justice, we must first tell the truth about our history of racial injustice before we can address its legacy. As a nation, we have not yet acknowledged our history of racial injustice, including the genocide of native people, the legacy of slavery and racial terror lynchings, and the legally authorized segregation and abuse of people of color.”
Students of Mt. Abraham Union High School have been gifted with the opportunity to learn, reflect and open their minds. Kelly Osborne, an eighth-grade teacher at Mt. Abe, along with two other colleagues developed a four-week curriculum so that students could engage and learn about racism. “We discussed social identities and what identity means and we discussed race and what race is.” That curriculum was offered during advisory. Students who took advantage of this opportunity are certainly light years ahead of what I experienced in my high school from 1963 to 1967. My hope is that students will have many opportunities over their years in high school to read, listen, watch, reflect, engage in dialogue with colleagues, and learn about racism and caste. EJI has many resources. Use them.
I hope that other students who missed these lessons, that you will find yourselves in a place to participate in learning about our country’s history of racial injustice. Do not wait much longer. Certainly do not wait until you are comfortable. Learning is a lifelong journey.
One last story — my mother had the chance to confront her racism a few years before she died. She was close to 80 years old. One day, I was visiting my mother where she lived in a retirement center. At that point, she still lived in her cottage, which was attached to other cottages north and south of hers. She explained to me with fear in her voice and eyes, that a Black man had moved in next door. I attempted to explain that the Black man was another human being who needed community and a safe place to live. Over the next year my mother observed this man’s daughters visiting (just like us). Eventually the Black man next door could no longer take care of himself (just like my father). He needed to be taken care of, at the nursing home onsite. And eventually this man died (just like my father). At the memorial service, my mother approached this man’s daughters and expressed her condolences. I think at that point in her life she realized that all people deserve community and tender, loving care. That we all have a lot in common. This wonderful Black man gave my mother one of her last gifts, to open her mind and heart and let go of one last fear.
Thank you for reading.
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