Commentary

Davey Shlasko and Camille Robertson: Showing up for racial justice after pro-Trump robocalls

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Davey Shlasko, who is an educator, author and consultant, and Camille Robertson, a carpenter and cross-country ski hut manager. Both live in Brattleboro and are core members of Lost River Racial Justice, a small group of racial justice organizers from Windham County, Vermont, Franklin County, Massachusetts, and Cheshire County, New Hampshire, that came together in the winter of 2015.

Last week, many Vermonters received automated calls from the leader of the American National Super PAC, a super PAC affiliated with a white supremacist organization whose extreme views include seeking the deportation of anyone with “non-white blood” [1] [2]. The recording bemoans how white people are afraid to be called racist, and urges people to instead openly embrace racist views. It begins and concludes by endorsing Donald Trump.

These calls – not only the policies they propose, but the calls themselves – are a form of racist violence. They cause emotional and psychological harm by asserting that white people are better than everyone else and by threatening Vermonters who are people of color with deportation, segregation and more. By tapping into white people’s fears and offering false racist solutions, they provide a ready excuse for those who would continue this verbal violence, as well for physical violence like the string of assaults we’ve seen in the past few days across the U.S.

The caller repugnantly claims that “few schools anymore have beautiful white children as the majority.” In addition to the mean-spirited and dangerous portrayal of children of color as not beautiful, he implies that white children are harmed by diverse educational environments. In fact, the opposite is true – educational research has demonstrated that students learn better in diverse classrooms. Furthermore, there are ongoing problems with racism against students of color in Vermont schools, as noted in the study “Kicked Out” by Vermont Legal Aid and in demonstrations organized by Black Lives Matter Vermont just last week [3] [4].

Rather than letting that fear keep us silent, those of us who are white need to open up to the reality that we too sometimes harbor racist thoughts and enact racist behaviors, even it it’s unintentional.

 

Most white Vermonters don’t support the extreme racist rhetoric in this robocall and coming out of Trump’s campaign, nor the kinds of violence they call for. While we decry the violent rhetoric, we must also examine the less-overt racism that occurs here, both in schools and throughout our communities. The one thing the call got right is that many white people are afraid to be called racist. Rather than letting that fear keep us silent, those of us who are white need to open up to the reality that we too sometimes harbor racist thoughts and enact racist behaviors, even it it’s unintentional. The point is not to say who is and isn’t “a racist,” but to recognize how individual and systemic racism occurs and figure out how we can help change it.

In this moment, white Vermonters must challenge ourselves to step off the sidelines and move into being actively anti-racist. It’s not enough to disagree with Trump in the privacy of our own homes, or even to just post our disgust on social media. This is a moment to vocally and visibly show up for racial justice, and to stand up in support of Vermont’s communities of color and against racism in all its forms.

As white people, we can show up by:

• supporting Black Lives Matter Vermont in their campaign to change racist policies that harm students of color in our schools: www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatterVermont/
• supporting Migrant Justice, which is fighting the criminalization and marginalization of migrant farm workers: www.migrantjustice.net
• putting up a Black Lives Matter or I Love My Muslim Neighbor lawn sign
• joining a Showing Up for Racial Justice* chapter: Lost River Racial Justice is hosting an open meeting on Thursday, March 31, 6:30-8 p.m. in Brattleboro – contact [email protected] for details. Contact SURJ Upper Valley VT/NH at [email protected]. Connect with Central VT SURJ at www.facebook.com/CVtSURJ/.

*Although SURJ nationally focuses on engaging more white people in the fight for racial justice, VT SURJ chapters are open to people of all races.

Notes

[1] http://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2016/02/25/in-robo-call-white-nationalist-calls-on-vermonters-to-back-trump?utm_content=bufferdb95e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[2] http://digital.vpr.net/post/white-supremacist-pac-inundates-vermont-robocalls-trump#stream/0

[3] http://www.vtlegalaid.org/sites/default/files/Kicked%20Out_School%20Discipline%20Report.pdf

[4] http://www.sevendaysvt.com/OffMessage/archives/2016/02/27/in-st-albans-march-black-lives-matter-vt-decries-school-racism

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  • “Violence” is a noun with a very concrete meaning attached. Phone calls are not “violence” — although I suppose if you believe that, then me pointing it out online probably constitutes assault. Strange times.