Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ellen Kaye, of Barre City, who is a librarian at the University of Vermont and a member of the Barre City Diversity and Equity Committee. The views expressed are her own.
Since June of this year, the city of Barre has been faced with a decision over displaying a Black Lives Matter flag. On Nov. 24, the City Council voted to display the flag during the month of December.
During the same period, many Barre City residents began to come together to publicly express the values we’d like our city to hold. On Friday evenings in October and November, masked, physically distant residents silently held homemade signs, with values such as compassion, kindness, Black lives, equity, community, mutual aid, Trans lives, and more. We believed it was important for individual residents to express that these things mattered to us, and that Barre was a welcoming and inclusive city.
Now, by raising this flag, the city will add its voice in support of Black lives for the month of December.
We join many other cities, towns, schools and businesses, who have expressed that Black lives matter through flags, banners, and street murals.
We are in good company. We stand with millions of people who understand that there is a human rights crisis in the United States. Centuries of laws and regulations enforcing second-class status have harmed Black people. From slavery, to Jim Crow laws, from housing discrimination to mass incarceration, from segregated, underfunded schools to employment discrimination, from disproportionate traffic stops and arrests, to police brutality. When police officers killed George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, millions of us came together under the hopeful statement that Black Lives Matter. Put another way, in order for all lives to matter, Black lives must matter.
What does raising a flag do?
It signals that the City Council has taken the time to consider this crisis, and has acted. It signals to BIPOC residents, visitors, and workers in Barre that we want this to be a welcoming and inclusive community. It signals that this community sees them, and all people who face barriers that the rest of us don’t. It signals that we acknowledge the pain that racism, in all its forms, inflicts.
This is just a symbol, but symbols are important. Without it, we are silent in the face of so much pain and suffering, and silent in the face of police brutality against Black and brown people. That silence is a signal in itself – of consent and approval.
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We have much work to do in our cities and towns, including our own, to examine and undo the effects of structural racism and other oppressions. This flag can signal that we are willing to begin.