Brenda Siegel: We do not have the luxury of remaining silent

About four weeks into this so-called presidency I lost the ability to say that this situation has hit a new low, yet, here we are today somehow having sunk lower still.

Twitler and his friends, party and apologists have shown their true colors time and time again. Racism, overt unadulterated racism and not just racism, but, a desire to see an Aryan nation is what we keep seeing. By now, you've heard what the president of the United States called African countries, Haiti and El Salvador, and said that we should get more people "from places like Norway." I would love to see anyone try to explain why that is not racist and white supremacist and Nazi. The thing is, that one statement really covers all the bases and though it is not surprising it is infuriating and disgusting.

At this point, silence is just as bad as supporting this man. Every lawmaker that does not come out and strongly condemn these heinous comments might as well be making them his or her self. We no longer get to sit by idly and wait while this man continues to destroy our relationship with other countries, put out military at risk, and demean citizens of this country and entire other countries based on the color of their skin, their religion or their socioeconomic status.

How many times does this guy have to tell you that he is a racist white supremacist for you to believe it? Yes, if directly asked he will say that he is not those things. Have you ever met a racist person who tells you they are racist? Twitler continues to tell us in his own words and statements that he is, in fact, racist. Not just racist, but also clearly thinks he is superior to those who are poor. He has no awareness that most people can't get a "small loan of $10 million" from their family. He believes it is OK to pay slave wages, put people of color in private prisons where they are abused and treated like slaves and animals and that the police should feel free to rough them up a bit. He stood on a platform and said he would not cut social security, medicaid and medicare, yet he is poised to cut it soon.

Giving some of the people that voted for him the benefit of the doubt, let us say that some of you really just did not like Hillary Clinton, you wanted change, you believed that he would do the good things he was saying and would not do the racist things he was saying. Let us say that your intentions were good. I ask you, do you support him now? If so, why? How could you?

He has done none of the good things he said he would and only the racist ones? What would be the last straw for you? How much time and how many things like this do you need to change your mind? What kind of candidate would cause you to vote differently? Have you examined your own beliefs about black and brown people and people who practice different religions than your own? Have you done research to find out if your beliefs are correct?

This is the time in the world we need to ask ourselves why we believe whatever we believe and then check to make sure that our beliefs are rooted in fact not fiction or fear. We can't afford to skip this step, not one of us. We need to attend local school board meetings, select board meetings, town meetings and so on and we need to call out bias both unconscious and conscious wherever we see it. It is no longer acceptable to sit on the side lines and just talk to our friends about it later. It is no longer acceptable to watch fellow human beings be treated with indignity and malice. We can't allow "alternative facts," which are not facts at all, to continue to get aired without counter. We can't pretend that our actions are not needed and do not have impact. They are and they do.

We stopped the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. We stopped the first several Muslim bans. Locally, in Brattleboro, we stopped a potential cut of a diversitycoordinator position and started a conversation about a program called PEAK essential to kids who might be slipping through the cracks. Our actions do impact the many. No we don't change every outcome. However, each time we speak out we create a conversation and an awareness. We encourage someone to do some research to better understand their own bias. Our actions matter.

In Nazi Germany it was the people who did nothing that allowed six million Jews and four million others to be killed and many others to be tortured, imprisoned and enslaved just for being Jewish or different. It was silence that allowed blond-haired, blue-eyed children to be experimented on so that Hitler could create a master race. It was silence that allowed those same children to be killed or discarded when the experiments were done. It was fear that created a situation where so many would join the Nazi Army and would comply with these actions.

In our country we kidnapped and enslaved black and brown African men, women and children. We tortured them, we hung them, we raped them, we did not serve justice when they were raped or killed. We built prisons and private prisons to update the way that we enslave people of color. We created a for profit system of prison that essentially buys and sells human beings. Many statistics have come out that show extremely clearly how black and brown men and women are given far more extreme sentences for the exact same crimes as white people. In our own state, we are locking up black and brown people at a rate of one out of 14 black men, which is among the highest in the United States. Before you even say it, no, this is not because black people commit more crimes; there is also good data and the reason is sentencing disparities. The data is clear, we have to ask ourselves what we are going to do about it?

We have to go out of our way to make our state a venue for progress. We want to lead the nation in forward change. We can not provide an echo chamber for what is currently happening on the national stage. We want to lift up the people of color and the poor in this state because it is the right thing to do but also because we know that when we do that, we all have success and growth.

When we hear what we heard on Thursday coming from the mouth of the leader of the free world we have to stand immediately against it. Furthermore we have to reject it not just in words, but, also in actions. We have to stand for the forward progress that will reject on its face this level of racism. When our policies in Vermont say loudly and clearly that we will be lifting up the most marginalized among us, when each state in our nation creates policy that lifts up our citizens instead of knocks most of them down, that is when our citizens win, that is when we have real strong economic progress, that is when we make real change for our communities, our state and our country.

Who with me will vow to stand up every single time we get knocked down and never allow this disgraceful presidency to determine who we are as a country? It is time for us to dig in our heals just a little more and make sure we are there every step of the way until not one citizen or immigrant (undocumented or here "legally"), not one child ever has to hear the president of the United States disparage them, the color of their skin, their socioeconomic status or the country from where they or their parents came.

Who stands with me to welcome with open arms to immigrants from African countries, Haiti, El Salvador and so on? Who stands with me to welcome the immigrants that have made this country the wonderful diverse place that it is? We are better than this, we can to better than this and we must.

Brenda Lynn Siegel is executive and artistic director of the Southern Vermont Dance Festival. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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