The Truth of the Matter | We need more celebrations, less animus

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Two years ago, on Feb. 17, 2017, a rare event took place in Montpelier. It was then, on a snowy and frigid day, when the three branches of the Vermont state government honored one of its citizens, Nathanial Boone, of Winhall.

It started mid-morning, when a joint session of the state's House and Senate adopted a resolution honoring Mr. Boone for his service to his country, as one of the surviving members of the Montford Point Marines, the segregated African-American Marines who had served during and shortly after World War II.

At noon, in the governor's ceremonial office, Gov. Phil Scott presented Nate Boone and his immediate family with a proclamation, declaring Feb. 17 as Nathanial Boone Day in Vermont. But it did not end there. Chief Justice Paul Reiber and his fellow justices, along with members of the Vermont Bar Association, also wished to participate, and so they did, honoring Nate in the courtroom of the Vermont Supreme Court.

According to the court, it was the first time in Vermont history that a Vermont citizen was honored by all three branches of government on the same day. And why, because several years earlier, in Washington, D.C., Congress presented Nate, along with 400 of his fellow Montford Point Marines, with America's highest civilian award, The Congressional Gold Medal.

I was an eyewitness, along with my wife, to the Washington and Montpelier celebrations. Today, I find it troubling to hear that racism exists here in Vermont. And I do my best to avoid ever being in denial over any issue that impacts our way of life.

Having stated this does not mean that I am unaware of the fact that living amongst us are individuals that spew hate speech - outright or through the of cloak of social media. I am realistic enough to know that most, if not all of them, will never change. Nevertheless, they should be called out each and every time they publish or manifest their detestable speech.

However, there is another side of this issue that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. And that is, not all criticism of a specific group or individual should be judged as bias or racism. Examples are: because I wish to defend our country's southern border from illegal immigration does not make me anti-immigration. Nor if I take a position against what Israel is doing in the West Bank makes me anti-Semitic. I would hope that I am not considered anti-Catholic by my positions on gay marriage and divorce that are, in some respect, contrary to Church teaching?

What appears to have taken place in our discussions over racism and bias by people who may not agree with someone's position, is a tendency to classify and generalize. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Mark Hemingway, this point was highlighted by what had taken place in Portland, Oregon.

In Portland, there was a debate over adopting rent controls due to the lack of affordable housing and stiff rent increases. One of the leading proponents of rent control, activist and a professor at Lewis and Clark University, Margot Black, was quoted in the WSJ piece, "Homegrown Oregonians tend to be white and racist. I think the faster they can get out of the landlord business the better."

The question I would ask of Professor Black, was it really necessary to characterize Portland's landlords as racist just because they are not in favor of rent control - because I am not, and does that make me racist? I would hope not.

The recent news conference held in Bennington by the Vermont attorney general did not help to tone down the level of animus now taking place. Bennington did not deserve to be singled out. What is needed is the spirit of what had taken place on Feb. 17, 2017 - more celebrations and less hostility.

Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington

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