Journal of the House, Feb. 16, 2021: Remarks from Vermont Community Foundation Director, Representative Hal Colston
These remarks were delivered and ordered printed in the Journal of the House by Representative Harold 'Hal' Colston of Winooski on February 16, 2021. Hal is on the Vermont Community Foundation's Board of Directors and a member of our Nominating Committee.
It is February 2021 and it is Black History month. I don’t believe there should be a Black History month. Why? Because it tokenizes black history. While its inception was a noble one from Carter G. Woodson who established Negro History Week in 1926, its reception for me is 'less than,' a minority report for BIPOC. And, then I cascade into an abyss abhorring the word 'minority' which is pejorative at its root. Less than, not good enough, inferior. I am Not inferior! I don’t think it is possible to bring attention in one month to the myriad of contributions conceived, created, and consummated by Americans who descended from African slaves. Black History has happened everyday of every month of every year that this country has existed. Since 1619! When our country honestly looks into the mirror, this is Beyond impact!
James Baldwin, who I regard as one of Black America’s most prolific prophets, wrote a book entitled 'Remember this House.' He was only able to write 30 pages before he passed. This work became an award-winning documentary 'I Am Not Your Negro.'
This is how Baldwin defined a Negro. 'What white people need to do is to find out why it was necessary in the first place to have a Negro. Because I am not a Negro; I am a man. If you think I am a Negro, it is because You need it. If I am a Negro here, then you the white people invented him. Then, you have to find out why. The future of our country depends on that, whether or not it has even asked that question.
What if the Negro was not invented? How would our country have worked without chattel slavery, the exploitation of black and brown people who became the backbone of our capitalistic system? Who would you be? Who would we be?'
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, 'We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.'
One way this garment manifests itself for me is through structural racism. Structural racism is the normalization of many dynamics that are historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal and routinely advantages White people while producing chronic, adverse outcomes for people of color. All of us are wounded by this system. All of us are oppressed by this system. All of us lose part of our humanity because of this system. When our country honestly looks into the mirror, this is Beyond reflection.
So, when you look into the mirror, do you see an impact or a reflection? Is your life a reflection of the American experience of white supremacy culture, and I am not talking about 'white hoods,' but 'white dominance' of nearly every institution in this country? Or is your life an impact of social and racial equity that must shape our country, our state, our communities to be a 'more perfect union?' Are you making an impact or making a reflection?