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John Klar, who finished a distant second to Gov. Phil Scott in the 2020 Republican primary, brought his traveling roadshow to Bennington County this week, with stops in Bennington and Manchester.

Klar and scheduled speaker, K. Carl Smith, a self-described “Frederick Douglass Republican,” came to deliver their view of the supposed dangers of critical race theory. The event is sponsored by the Vermont Liberty Network, whose web page is a course catalog of right-wing grievances, including COVID regulations as an infringement upon religious liberty.

“Smith has long advocated for the ‘conservative’ core values expressed in the Vermont and United States Constitutions,” Klar said in a statement. “In the face of an overzealous ideological push to impose BLM and critical race theory on Vermonters, these core values are under direct assault — including the protections of the Bill of Rights, which CRT instructs have been tools of oppression; not keys to liberty.”

“Vermont media outlets have portrayed any challenges to CRT as ‘right-wing’ efforts to avoid discussing race. As Smith will demonstrate, Vermonters (of every color) very much do wish to discuss the new racism being implemented in their schools,” Klar said before the events.

What do you suppose he means by “new racism?” As seen from Klar’s recent writing on the topic, in which he called proponents of critical race theory “thugs,” the clear inference is reverse or anti-white racism. He says Gov. Phil Scott, progressive legislators, and school administrators “have used this bogus ‘theory’ to ‘systematically’ slander Vermonters as white supremacists who oppressed black people in order to gain wealth.”

That’s a dog whistle, a message meant to be heard by whites who see renewed focus on racial equity as an existential threat.

Lots of folks talk about critical race theory, but few know much about what it is. For starters, it’s college-level material, not widely taught at the K-12 level.

Even so: What’s wrong with kids learning the age-appropriate history of race in this country? Our children should know our democracy is still a work in progress, and why, so they might succeed in the places where we have fallen short.

As summarized by The Associated Press, critical race theory is “a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism. Scholars developed it during the 1970s and 1980s in response to what they viewed as a lack of racial progress following the civil rights legislation of the 1960s. It centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation’s institutions and that they function to maintain the dominance of white people in society.”

AP also wrote that “Many Republicans view the concepts underlying critical race theory as an effort to rewrite American history and persuade white people that they are inherently racist and should feel guilty because of their advantages. But the theory also has become somewhat of a catchall phrase to describe racial concepts some conservatives find objectionable, such as white privilege, systemic inequality and inherent bias.”

When did empathy for the grievous wrong done to people over 400 years over the color of their skin become un-American? When did pointing out a plainly obvious fact — that whites have had advantages in this country, because they made rules that disadvantaged people of color — become heresy?

Let’s not forget, there are elections to win in 2022 and 2024 and this hot topic will be a discussion point to rally around if nothing else.

Bennington County is still recovering from the wounds inflicted upon former state Rep. Kiah Morris, when a calculated campaign of harassment forced her to give up her House seat and move away.

Our community is still coming to grips with, and trying to heal from, the harm inflicted not only upon Morris and her family, but on all of us.

The process of reconciliation and repair is slow, steady work, not microwave popcorn. Much to their credit, the Bennington Select Board, the Bennington Police Department, and many concerned citizens have shown dedication to that work. It takes time. And patience, like most virtues, is difficult.

Dog whistles claiming an honest accounting of American history is somehow unfair to white folks will not bring people together at a time when unity is desperately needed. We should be wary of those who would make political hay from fomenting division. We’ve learned that lesson in the past, and it’s one we hopefully will not repeat.


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