The Small Part We Play in The Dismantlement of Institutionalized Racism

Take a deep breath, it’s one hell of a title. I am sure this is about to be the kind of thing that is offputting for some, but I hope it is enlightening for all. Because the reality is that change is the responsibility of everyone. However minuscule, or seemingly mundane, each opportunity we pass up is an opportunity lost.

Last week I was frequenting one of my favorite establishments of the Northeast Kingdom. It’s a gas station but it’s so much more. It also happens to be a bank, and a deli, a seafood counter, a dollar shop, a small grocery store, and a place to get items for pets and livestock.

It was an overcrowded Saturday mid morning , with many people smiling and stopping to have conversation with each other, and I was no exception to this. I was having a lovely conversation with the teller checking me out when I looked down and to my horror I saw something blatantly racist.

It was a box full of business cards for a company called Rebel Rummage with a confederate flag for its logo. It was presumably some sort of cleanup service but I did not care to investigate any further. Unfortunately my own immediate reaction was “Oh well I like Marty’s it’s not that big of a deal.” But the problem is is that it is a really big deal. It’s peoples reactions just like that, thinking it’s a small thing perpetuates the issues that go on in our society. Thankfully I was able to self identify this way and come to my own realization about how inappropriate my own reaction was. Given how busy it was in the store and not wanting to make a scene or to be seen as a nuisance I chose to pick my battle for a later time.

Because I’m an overspent mother of three and that I live and work in the same place I pulled up a tab in my browser immediately on my phone and look at the contact information for Marty’s knowing that the next time I used my phone I would see it and be reminded to call and make known my concerns.

Days passed and I started to feel sick with anxiety about making this phone call. I started to imagine a scenario in my mind where the cards belongs to the owners family members, and that I would be brushed off. I started to wonder what I would do if my concerns were not addressed. Would it be enough just to stop frequenting the establishment? Whom would I notify to form an allegiance, and how much time was I willing to dedicate to the good fight?

I preemptively concocted a plan where I would notify local sympathizers to back me up. We would make righteous and witty signs and stand outside the doors protesting the support of racism in any capacity. We would band together and make a difference on a small scale. Because nothing changes on a large scale until we address it on a small scale first. Ideally their would be large scale changes that trickle down into day-to-day life, but that is not the reality of the society that we live in. Change is a grassroots thing, it comes in little by little and not noticed until we are all the better for it. This was my plan. And guarded with this armor I made my phone call.

When I called and explained my complaints to the owner I was met with a sympathetic year. It was clarified that in no way did the owner support such a business, and that often patrons come in and leave things posted on boards or on counters without notice. He assured me that as soon as we hung up the contraband in question would be disposed of. I felt elated at this news. A full on battle had been avoided, my faith in humanity had been revived, and the things that matter to me matter to others. A small part of me wondered if I was just being placated. However I choose to trust, I choose to believe that man honored his agreement. I slept well that night knowing that my best intentions of rebellion were not needed and I had not let my opportunity for change pass me by.

That is my hope for all of you. That you not turn a blind eye to these seemingly small infractions that have much larger scale implications. That you will not partake in a conversation that starts with “I am not racist but…” That we hold true to our convictions and we know that we will back each other up when it comes time to make a difference.

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