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People often claim that there were no racists in the SB schools when they chose Confederate symbols for the new high school. However, intent is not needed for racism to rear its head. Racism has long been in the very air we breathe but is invisible to those who dont feel its sting.
At the same time South Burlington High School was choosing an identity, hotels in the area had an unwritten agreement to take no blacks. Mayfair Park residents had a written covenant to not sell their homes to people of color. In 1965, Governor Hoff proposed a bill to prohibit racial discrimination in housing sales and rentals. It failed. The South Burlington students and teachers were surrounded by racism but they could not see it because they and their families could rent at any hotel, buy a home anywhere in the city, and read the history of their people everyday in school.
When they chose the Rebel name, Confederate flag and mascot, they unthinkingly chose symbols that represented the nations enemies, who started a war that killed hundreds of thousands to keep people enslaved and, later, foisted a new reign of terror on blacks who dared to fight for a better life. While the South Burlington students were choosing the Confederate flag as their symbol, people of color who dared to register to vote were being tortured, lynched, and burned in the South under that same hateful banner. It is now a part of the high school institution and vey hard to eradicate. To choose such symbols was institutional racism, pure and simple. Intent is not needed for racism to occur. Even if it is not in your heart, it is in the air and a part of all our institutions. We must work to eliminate it.
Many people misunderstand "racism." To be a racist, according to popular thought, is to be a violent monster. While there certainly are violent racists who hate people of color, there are also very nice people, with no animosity toward blacks, who unconsciously buttress a cruel system. Time and our justice system will tell into which category Mr. Emmons falls.
The students and teachers who chose the confederate symbols for SBHS in 1965 and those who defend it today may not be personally prejudiced against people of color, but they had, and still have, the power to choose symbols that damage peoples psyches, both black and white. The name is part of the institution at South Burlington High School and is difficult to extract. This is institutional racism. At this moment, there are very nice people trying to keep the last remnant of institutionally racist symbols.
When they chose Confederate symbols and the rebel name in 1965, those at the high school unthinkingly chose symbols that represented the nation's enemies, who started a war that killed hundreds of thousands, including many Vermonters, to keep people enslaved. We do a disservice to their memory and sacrifices by romanticizing the enemies of the nation. The rebels enslaved people and, later, foisted a new reign of terror on blacks who dared to fight for a better life. While the South Burlington students were choosing the Confederate flag as their symbol, people of color who dared to register to vote were being tortured, lynched, and burned in the South under that same hateful banner. To choose such symbols was racism, pure and simple. Intent is not needed for racism to occur. This is institutional racism. It is obviously hard to extract, but extract it we must.