A coalition formed in response to incidents of race- and faith-based harassment in Stowe and Morristown floundered when it tried to define its purpose May 26.
The Stowe-Morrisville Coalition met for the first time in April, and for the second time May 26.
It was formed after an incident last summer, in which a driver on Mountain Road hurled racist slurs at children of color at a summer camp at Stowe Golf Park and Stoweflake Mountain Resort at Stowe, including the N-word and the term “monkeys.”
Also motivating formation of the coalition were incidents of anti-Semitism in Stowe and Morristown, including swastikas found carved into a desk and painted on a field at Stowe Middle School and Peoples Academy.
At the May meeting, the coalition tried to complete its mission statement, including phrases such as “identify and reduce prejudice and discrimination” and “dismantle systemic oppression.”
It’s been through six drafts already, said Nathan Suter, a member of the coalition’s steering committee.
The coalition spent about 15 minutes talking about how to talk about racism — “Well-meaning white folks can do a fair bit of harm,” said coalition member Kate Donnally, a therapist based in Lamoille County.
Coalition members agreed it’s uncomfortable to discuss issues of racism and bias, but Suter urged people present to push through and “step up. This is our work. I’ve been benefiting from racism in this history of this country for centuries.
“I’ve got a debt to pay, and if discomfort is part of that payment,” Suter said he’s prepared to roll up his sleeves.
About 20 minutes into the meeting, Saudia LaMont, a woman who spoke at April’s meeting — pointing out that the coalition didn’t include many people of color — alleged that it was racist of the newspaper to include her race when quoting her May 2.
“I was outed as a black woman,” she said. “That was highly offensive.”
The Rev. Barbara Miller, who identified herself as black, acknowledged it’s tough to know how to help.
“It’s hard if a person hasn’t dealt with racism and prejudice,” she said. “You have to go through the experience to be able to vocalize” what it’s like.
Tough issues, tough conversation
Media coverage of racial issues was the topic of much of the rest of the meeting.
“As a Muslim man, particularly, obviously, since 9/11, there’s an incredible disparity in how events are reported in the news,” one man said. “I’m sure it’s not news to anybody here, but if it’s a Muslim man, it’s automatically terrorism,” but non-Muslims are described as “deranged” or “crazy” instead, he said.
“That has a serious impact. It’s a miseducation of the public. It further solidifies the otherness. … I’ve been in this community for over 20 years and I still, going to the store, when my beard was a little bit longer, take a store that I walk into every day, I get this look from somebody in the store. Why do I deserve that look that you just gave me?”
The man said the national news media, in particular, is partly to blame for what he sees as discrimination against his race and faith.
Other coalition members took issue with the local media.
The Stowe-Morristown Coalition has received financial support from the town of Stowe and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development — $3,000 to fund a professional facilitator — and the Stowe Reporter has been invited to both meetings of the coalition.
However, some don’t think the newspaper should cover the meetings at all.
“On the one hand, I understand the need to educate the community about what we’re doing here,” Rachel Vandenberg said, “but it’s almost like we can’t even start the conversation about these tough issues because it’s all about first creating that safe space, and I don’t feel safe” with a reporter in the room.
“There are times when the media report on their own incidents within the media, like when (Matt Lauer) got thrown off for sexual harassment,” Vandenberg said. “I would challenge the reporter to represent everything at the meeting.”
A date and location for the coalition’s next meeting has not been announced.