– Guest post by Netdahe Stoddard, PJC facilitator

    I was full of positive energy and wearing a big smile as I lined up to race the 2019 Dandelion Run half marathon in Derby on May 18th. The weather was perfect for running and I was happy to be having a little stay-cation and spending my money locally in the NEK. Then I looked to my left and saw a fellow runner with a hatefully racist, violent white supremacist tattoo – a personal billboard advocating violence against people of color in my community, in my family and against me through association. My stomach sank and I felt strong feelings of sadness and rage. I kept my cool and informed the race director and every volunteer I saw along the route. I let them know that I was offended, that I felt personally threatened and that I expected that he would be made to leave. I was told that this would happen.

This particular race is a fundraiser for work to end interpersonal violence in our community. Yet, one of the participants was advocating violence directly and communicating support for an ideology that fuels shootings and bombings in Synagogues, Mosques, Churches, schools and other public places in our country and others.

I was disheartened to find, at the end of my race, that he had not been asked to leave. I was first told by the race director that they couldn’t find him then, when I pointed the man out, the race director told me he would “think hard about it for next year”. Think hard about what, I wondered – wether people’s safety was worth the discomfort of having a brief difficult conversation? Shame on him. His silence and inaction is a direct endorsement of hatred and violence in the community.

So, I approached the white supremacist and told him I was offended and felt personally threatened by his tattoo and asked him to leave. I told him that I interpreted his tattoo as telling me that my family doesn’t belong in VT and that if we don’t leave, violence may be perpetrated against us. He refused to leave and when I asked if he wanted to explain any misunderstanding I might have about the message he was trying to send – he only smirked. Despite fearing for my own and other’s safety I tried to engage him in conversation, hoping to positively affect his fearful, hateful mind and again he refused. I then informed as many of my fellow runners of the situation as I had time for.

Unfortunately, this is where my story takes an uglier turn. Not one person stood with me against this display of hatred in our community. A few people thanked me, quietly and off to the side, perhaps feeling fear themselves – of violence, backlash… Two of my fellow runners even told me that I should leave, that I was spoiling their day by making everyone notice and think about the situation.
White supremacists are fearful, weak and self-hating. They are insecure and dare not share equal rights or space with “other” people. Like a scared little dog on a leash of its own making, barking hate at you to convince itself that it is big. I know exactly what to expect of white supremacists and can only be so disappointed. My fellow Vermonters on the other hand, who talk such a good game – where were you today? I am deeply disappointed. This is not the place I have been lead to believe it is. We had the chance today to show that hate has no home here, just like our signs say. I even did the leg work for us. We could have chosen to have an event-wide conversation on the spot, we could have made him leave or cover his hateful messages but we didn’t.

Right now, hate definitely has a home here. Here. In your home. And we are all so much worse off for it. I learned a few lessons today. 1) I do not feel welcome in the community I’ve lived in for 39 years. 2) The actual safety of “certain” people in our community is not as important as the perceived comfort of the majority. 3) White skin privileged Vermonters, like me,  would allow everyone to be harmed and allow the entire fabric of our society to come apart because we choose to perceive racism as “other” people’s problem.

We can and must do better. Please ask yourself: who is welcome to spend their hard earned money at a fundraiser in their own community? Under what conditions? At what cost? Our well intentioned lip service is paving our own special road to hell. The depth of my disappointment is made possible only because I know we are better than this. We have the power to simply choose to do better.