Hate Has No Home Here

October 24th, 2018

I have taken some leave and have enjoyed some rest, relaxation, peace and quiet in deep rural Vermont, among beautiful forests and hills.

The political temperature was fairly high (by Vermont standards) during our stay, because of the approaching “mid-terms.” This is the land of Bernie Sanders. There are three political parties in this state – Democrats, Republicans and Progressives. Vermont’s Republican Governor might almost be regarded as “left of centre.” I watched a televised debate between two candidates, sitting at a nice table with the moderator, and found it very interesting, pleasant viewing. Two young candidates vying for office reportedly played a duet after their debate!

It is true to say that Vermont has a long liberal tradition; it was the first state to ban slavery (in 1777) and the first to legislatively legalize gay marriage (in 2000). Vermonters (the phrase is “I’m a Vermonter, I do what I want-er”) take pride in supporting and creating positive social change. People are laid-back. We were almost overwhelmed with attention and friendliness.

A view from our window in Vermont. It is a beautiful, peaceful state. (My photo)

A view from our window in Vermont. It is a beautiful, peaceful state. (My photo)

Now, Vermont is also one of the most un-diverse states in the U.S., alongside its neighbours Maine and New Hampshire…so perhaps we were also a bit of a curiosity to some.  In fact, 96.7 per cent of its small population (nearly 624,000) is white! Its capital Montpelier, a lovely town, is the smallest state capital in the U.S. with a population of around 7,000.

And yet. And yet. Dark forces remain, even in this haven of civility. A couple of months ago, the only black woman in the Vermont legislature, Ruqaiyah “Kiah” Morris, resigned after representing a predominantly white area for four years. She had been receiving threats, online and sometimes offline. Morris tweeted:

“The last four years of service have been incredible; an enormous honour and significant responsibility…The last two years have been emotionally difficult for many. Political discourse, and in particular within the sphere of social media has been divisive, inflammatory and at times, even dangerous. It is my hope that as a state, we will continue to demand greater support and protections for one another from those forces which seek to divide and destroy our communities.”

Her colleagues are upset. Bernie Sanders said this is “not what Vermont is about.” And yet, during these ongoing attacks, what were her colleagues and others (including law enforcement) doing to protect Ms Morris and her family? Did they just hope this vicious (and likely quite small, Trump-inspired) group of individuals would just go away? Could more have been done? We must not pretend, turn away or close our eyes to evil.

Vermont State Representative Kiah Morris says she will be stepping down at the end of the year...but will not be giving up the fight. (Photo: Essence Magazine)

Vermont State Representative Kiah Morris says she will be stepping down at the end of the year…but will not be giving up the fight. (Photo: Essence Magazine)

You may ask: What relevance does this story have for Jamaica? We don’t have a “race problem” here (some would say, although others might disagree). My point is about hatred and intolerance – something which is creeping back into many human societies, in different manifestations, around the world. This has a way of slipping into political discourse. Right now, the President of the United States is talking about “dangerous” immigrants. It has a way of manifesting itself – as in the explosive devices sent to the homes of the Clintons, the Obamas and CNN today.

All kinds of termites are coming out of the woodwork. Creepy crawlies are coming out from under stones.

Physical attacks and violence simply breed more violence. It’s not the way to go. Like many great human rights activists, such as Dr Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, among many others, my personal view is that protest and “righteous anger” should be expressed non-violently. We should sit down together (as in the Vermont Public TV studio) round a nice polished table (or its equivalent)…and talk. Make eye contact. As one who has personally suffered from online abuse, I believe this is the coward’s way out. Nevertheless, some dark forces are happy to abuse you, face to face and offline. They are, as I said, emerging – even in a peaceful place like Vermont, where people are extraordinarily respectful and thoughtful.

Hatred, divisiveness and bigotry take many forms. We cannot ignore them (or even the signs of them) or allow them to grow. We must be vigilant.

A yard sign.

A yard sign.

I saw a sign in the local arts centre, which said: Hate Has No Home Here.

I would also like to see a hate-free Jamaica. And one more word from Kiah Morris, which is also relevant to us:

“We need to stop looking for a movement messiah. We need to do the work ourselves. All of us.”

It’s our own personal responsibility to push back against hatred and to ensure that it never takes root.

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