Letter: Committing to equality

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To the Editor:

As a combination of outrage, despair—and now, determination—has swept the country in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, we may, even in the midst of turbulence and mourning, be witnessing a recommitment to the American ideal of equality. Protests have grown with each day and they have even spread to small, predominantly white towns like ours.

As the two of us, along with many others, stood at the roundabout in peaceful vigil for racial justice last week, we stood as well for something more—the country we are supposed to be. White people across America need to come to grips with the fact that we can no longer shake our heads in disgust, but otherwise stay silent and do nothing. Institutional and cultural racism eats at our nation's soul, locks entire segments of our country in poverty and oppression, denies dignity and denies opportunity. It makes impossible everything we want to believe about America.

It's a tragic contradiction that has defined our country since 1619, when the first cargo ship carrying African slaves arrived in the British colony of Virginia. From its inception, America has stood and fought for the very highest ideals of liberty, justice and equality—but failed to achieve those ideals for everyone.

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The moral catastrophe of the Trump presidency, replete with its license to hate, is in many ways a political expression of America's racial divide. We hope it proves to be the darkest hour before the dawn. At the roundabout, the two of us stood for a moment with three young women, one still in middle school, as they held their handmade signs saying, "Enough is Enough." It gives us hope that justice and equality, in the end, will prevail.

As the Civil War wound down and Lincoln made his Second Inaugural speech, he closed with his now most-famous words, "With malice toward none." We must remember those words as we work to create a country that respects the dignity of every human being. But we must also remember an even more important part of Lincoln's Second Inaugural. Showing true presidential courage, he first told white Americans an unpleasant truth: that all of us, north and south, were responsible for the evil of slavery. Today, white Americans must face our own unpleasant truth—we are responsible for dismantling racism. We all must actively engage in the fight, through protests, through work in our communities, at the ballot box, through self-education and in our hearts.

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Most importantly, we need to listen to what black, indigenous and people of color have been telling us for decade upon decade. We need to seek out their experience, guidance and ideas. And then we must act. So, stand on the bridge in peaceful protest, contribute to organizations carrying the fight, take a hard look at the implicit bias you may carry, and never again be silent.

As a state representative and member of the Social Equity Caucus, Kathleen is using her vote and her voice to support racial justice in the statehouse. We're running as a team in the upcoming election. If elected, we'll continue this work in Montpelier together — meeting with black community members in Arlington, Manchester, Sandgate and Sunderland and then taking action to create the just, compassionate society we have sought to achieve since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago.

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In the coming weeks, we'll be publishing our positions on Vermont's economic recovery, education, housing and other vital issues facing our communities. But as our country rises up to demand action, racial justice demanded a response now.

Seth Bongartz

Rep. Kathleen James



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