Roper: Thoughts on racism in Vermont

By Rob Roper

Two racism related stories have rocked Vermont in recent weeks. The first had to do with campers being taunted from a passing car in Stowe, and the second with Rep. Kaiah Morris’ decision not to run for office again due to alleged race-based harassment. Neither of these incidents is acceptable, but how we handle them can either help or make worse the situation. Sadly, the emerging “social justice warrior” approach to solving racism is actually making matters much worse by insisting that everything be seen through the prism of one’s skin color.

Rob Roper

Rob Roper is the president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

It used to be that teaching people not to see race was the way to wipe out racism. As Martin Luther King, who has some authority on this subject, said of his Dream, “Children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Now we are told that his vision is actually racist. Speech codes on college campuses, for example, list the statement “there is only one race, the human race,” as a racist micro-aggression. (What?!) In fact, now you must see someone’s skin color in order to affirm their racial experience or you’re racist. Yes, this is some serious Orwellian “War is peace, freedom is slavery” thought twisting going on here. Sorry, but if we’re picking a path to solutions, I’m sticking with Dr. King.

We’re also told now that asking someone, “Where are you from?” is a racist micro-aggression. This was part of the Stowe complaint. Staff at the hotel where the campers were staying asked them where they were from in an attempt to be friendly. It is a logical question in a hotel in a tourist town where everybody is from somewhere else. It’s an easy icebreaker. As the vice president of the hotel in question said, “My staff is trained to talk to people and ask them where they are from, what are they doing here, and what’s the purpose of their meeting. That’s customer service.” If it is considered racist to introduce ourselves to one another and ask basic questions about each other, how will we ever get to know one another and realize we like one another?

The concept of “cultural appropriation” is another unproductive trend. Sharing aspects of diverse cultures is, again, a way to get to know and understand people who are different from ourselves. It should be an enriching and sought after experience. Of course, nobody should mock or stereotype, but when we see situations where Latina women say only they can wear hoop earrings, or only Indian women can teach Yoga (yup, real stories), we should recognize that these are not cases of insensitivity but rather examples of respect and admiration. By shaming this kind of curiosity and shared experience, all we’re doing is creating walls of racial tribalism and resentment on all sides.

In his book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” Jonathan Haidt, a moral philosopher, explains some of the evolutionary reasons behind tribalism. We are all wired to be wary of that which is different. If we do not know for a fact that something (or someone) is safe, which we learn through familiarity, our survival instinct is to assume that it is not, and prompts us to avoid it. Our primal ancestors who walked right up to the saber toothed tiger assuming it would be friendly were eaten. Their genetics were not passed on. We’re the product of the other guys who hid behind a rock (or killed the tiger first).

Therefore, the solution to racial tensions, Haidt says is to, “Increase similarity, not diversity. … Don’t call attention to racial and ethnic differences. Make them less relevant by ramping up similarity and celebrating shared values and common identity. … There’s nothing special about race. You can make people care less about race by drowning race differences in a sea of similarities, shared goals, and mutual interdependencies.” He later states, “Highlighting differences makes people more racist, not less.” This is why the “identity politics” increasingly practiced by the left is so dangerous.

A good example finding commonalities to overcome racism is Jackie Robinson and the successful integration of Major League Baseball. People initially rejected the idea of a black ball player because he was different. But, they ultimately overcame this racist barrier by discovering a common love for the game and, if you were a Dodger fan, the common desire to beat the Yankees in the World Series. In politics, we can look to the desire for better educational opportunities for our children, stronger families, safer communities as goals and interests that unite us.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Image courtesy of U.S. National Archives and Records Administration

3 thoughts on “Roper: Thoughts on racism in Vermont

  1. Agree with this completely. As a kid growing up in ‘Joisey’, I’d never heard the word racism or racist. We had many kids of different colors and nationalities in school, and no-one cared. The ‘star’ of our HS football team was black, and he was as accepted as just one of the guys. My GF was of oriental heritage and no-one ever noticed. Seems to me, the racism label became the only explanation of why some of the kids failed. White kids too, but they didn’t have the fallback to claim racism. They just didn’t work or study hard. Had nothing to do with skin color.

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