Letter: Listen to second voice on reality of racism

Listen to second voice on reality of racism

To the editor:

Last week at an assembly held in the wake of a racist threat at Monument Mountain Regional High School, several students spoke powerfully about the need to confront racism and make our school culture as inclusive and respectful as possible. But the last student to speak — a student of color — did something more: he offered a scathing rebuke, describing anger and frustration at a lack of progress on racial issues, and telling us he didn't feel safe, respected and appreciated.

I am going to be blunt. Part of me recoiled. "Wait," said a voice deep inside my head. "It's not that bad! This is a good place, a tolerant place." I observed my reactions; the voice continued: "There are so many people working so hard here to nurture generosity of spirit and equity of opportunity."

But another voice superseded the first. Listen: he is telling you his experience. He is telling you how it is for him.

We have to listen. And hear. His experience may not jibe with yours, and you may not like it. He made it clear that he doesn't like it, either. But it is his experience, nonetheless.

And if it has been his, it has also been at least similar to that of others, including others who may for whatever reasons be less equipped than was this student to speak of it. He told us that his success is "a case of defying the odds." It takes an enormous amount of psychic, emotional, and intellectual energy for any student to navigate high school successfully. Try to imagine, my fellow "default" citizens of privilege, adding the burden of not being "default."

I self-identify as a liberal thinker, a progressive, a humanist, a supporter of Black Lives Matter. I hold equality — of rights, respect, opportunity — as a primary value. And still part of me resisted what I was hearing, talked back as if I knew better.

The existence of that first voice in my mind is exactly the point. We don't choose our biases, and they don't make us evil people — but they can be powerful and insidious, and we must be vigilant. Once we are aware of them, our responsibilities change.

It's not that my first voice has everything wrong: there are indeed many deeply good people doing deeply good work every day at Monument. But that part of me doesn't know the whole picture; it doesn't know as much as it thinks it does. The playing field is not even; experience is not equivalent.

The student told me that some classrooms and spaces feel more supportive than others. Please, do everything you can to be sure that the spaces you work in and move through — whether in a school or elsewhere — are on the safe list. Let your second voice speak, loud and clear — and listen.

Lisken Van Pelt Dus, Pittsfield


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