Genie Rayner: Sunlight is the best disinfectant

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Fran Lebowitz, author and political activist, writes, "Trump allows people to express their racism and bigotry in a way that they haven't been able to in quite a while and they really love him for that. It's a shocking thing to realize people love their hatred more than they care about their own actual lives."

Let me repeat that: ` people love their hatred more .' The three incidents of hate-based graffiti and vandalism that appeared in Bennington on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (March 9-12) are public evidence of that. These acts are not only driven by racism and bigotry, they are acts of cowardice because they were done under cover of darkness.

These cowards may love their hatred more than their own lives, but it seems they're not willing to wield their graffiti-laced words in public, in the daylight. Why could that be? Maybe because they know that vandalism will actually get them arrested? Unlike, of course, words and threats on social media that are, according to our state's attorney general, protected by the First Amendment clause of free speech. So when they know they won't be protected, the cowards crawl out into the dark and do their hateful dirty work.

I was taught that if one has the conviction of one's opinions and beliefs, one should be willing to stand up and defend them. So I challenge the cowards, and their friends, to come out in public and defend yourselves. Not at a press conference with a police presence, not with guns, not on social media. No, go to, say, a Select Board meeting.

Go to a Select Board meeting, with all the lights on and where people can see who you are, and defend your beliefs. Proclaim them for all to hear! There's time at every meeting for public comments. If you believe such hateful vitriol so strongly, if you love your hatred more than anything, then come out of the darkness and show yourselves. It must be worth it, right? All the rest of us must be wrong. Right?

Show us, then, how we are wrong. Tell us — in public, in the light — how we can correct your perception of the error of our ways. Tell us to our faces why "white power" is superior to believing that all human beings, regardless of the color of our skin, our religion, our gender orientation, our disabilities, our differences are equal. Explain just why white supremacy is your creed. If you really hate us so much that you have to act out and scrawl graffiti over fences, tables, buildings, and houses at night, in the dark, there must be something you can defend legally.

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"Trump allows people to express their racism and bigotry in a way they haven't been able to in quite a while " After the first two graffiti incidents, some people have said they wished such hateful expressions of bigotry could go back underground, as it had for so many years. But I question if that would make a difference.

It didn't make a difference when my family and I moved to Connecticut from Atlanta in 1962. As a young child whose godfather marched and was jailed with Martin Luther King, Jr., whose father — and therefore all of us — was targeted by the KKK because he wrote a letter to the paper to support school integration, whose small church was vandalized because of my parents' support of MLK and the Civil Rights movement, I came to New England with the hope that race relations were better here. Not so, my parents told me as we drove into Connecticut. It's the same here, they told me, it's just simmering below the surface.

And so, unfortunately, it has proved. All through my growing up and going to school, then moving to Vermont in 1995. And then to Bennington in 2012. When you know what to look for, what to listen for, you can see it — and it's not only hiding behind Confederate flags, social media, guns, or `white power' graffiti sprayed around town in the dark.

As the saying goes, sunlight is the best disinfectant. So to the rest of us who believe in the light, who want to make a difference, I call on us to counter the hate with love. Go to Select Board meetings yourselves, or write to the paper to call out biased actions or to thank someone for something that defers hate. Don't hide behind the fear of offending someone. Stand beside and with your friends of color. Speak out! Be as courageous as the vandals are cowardly.

Regardless of skin color, our residents must feel safe in the stores, in their trucks and cars, in their schools and homes. I'm still holding out hope.

Genie Rayner is a writer, author and freelance editor. She can be reached through her website at www.magiclampedits.wordpress.com.


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