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Rev. Devon Thomas: Black is beautiful in Vermont

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This commentary is by Rev. Devon Thomas, a resident of Georgia, Vermont, and who serves the Second Congregational Church in Hyde Park, Second Congregational Church in Jeffersonville, and the United Church of Bakersfield and Fairfield

This month, I was blessed to celebrate Martin Luther King Day with my family. As a Black person who grew up in Vermont, and is now the father of a Black son who was born in Vermont, I find myself wondering if my son will have an easier time finding acceptance in Vermont than I did growing up in Underhill during the early 2000s.

Do not misunderstand me: For the most part, my life in Vermont has been met with love and kindness. Pretty much everyone I knew was white, and my friends, teachers and mentors all tried their best to include me.

I grew up in a community that believed in the Golden Rule — treat others the way you would want to be treated — and so everyone, and I mean everyone, tried their best to treat me, a Black kid, as if I were white.

I understand this was done with the best of intentions, but it overlooked an important defining difference — I’m Black.

Sameness and difference have a complex relationship in Vermont. We are individuals and want to be seen that way. A Red Sox fan would not want to be treated like a Yankee fan, and a true Vermonter would not want to be mistaken for a flatlander.

Some of us take pride in being good athletes, or artists. We take pride in our jobs, such as being educators or civil servants. These differences of identity help to define us as individuals, and we would not want others to overlook them.

For a person of color, and for me in my life, my Blackness is a part of my identity. It is an important part of who I am as an individual, and I would not want people to overlook that, even if they just think they are being kind in trying to do so.

It is understandable that in a predominantly white state, whiteness is also overlooked, because it is assumed to be the universal standard. However, the unfortunate reality is that it is unkind to ignore these important aspects of people's lives, because Blackness and whiteness are not just physical features. They reflect culture, history, struggle and opportunity.

For white Vermonters to truly be inclusive of Black people, they need to get over their colorblindness and see the beauty of being Black in Vermont.

It is important that our white brothers and sisters here in Vermont understand that many BIPOC folks struggle living here in Vermont. It is hard to live in a place where your individuality is ignored and where there are still few places to go to find others who understand the struggle of being a person of color in America today.

Vermont is not immune to social and systemic racism, and people of color in Vermont struggle more economically and socially than their white counterparts because they are still working to recover from and overcome centuries of systemic oppression. The experiences of BIPOC Vermonters are different from those of White Vermonters, and as we finish celebrating Martin Luther King Day and then enter Black History Month, I feel this is a fact that needs to be acknowledged.

However, a BIPOC Vermont experience is still a Vermont experience and, at the end of the day, we are all neighbors in this state together.

I pursued my graduate degree in New York City, which gave me the opportunity to move to Harlem and live in a mostly Black community. While there, I learned a lot about what it meant for me to be a Black person. I learned to honor the beauty of my Blackness.

But I also learned something else. Every time I opened my mouth, people knew I was not from Harlem. I was from Vermont, and as I learned more about the type of Black person I am, I came to understand the beauty of being a Black person from Vermont as well.

Read the story on VTDigger here: Rev. Devon Thomas: Black is beautiful in Vermont .

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