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Is it Healthy to be Black in Vermont?

It is Black History Month again. Time to read and watch and listen to Black stories, Black music, Black movies. Time to celebrate all that Black Americans and those from across the African Diaspora have contributed to our history and our present, as well as our future.

This year, the theme for Black History Month is Black Health and Wellness.

The purpose is to celebrate all the contributions of Black people to not only the field of western medicine, but all the other ways of knowing (e.g., birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora. 

Unfortunately, for me, and many other Black Vermonters, our health and wellness is not where it should be. We are not healthy, we are not well. 

February is a hard month to be Black in Vermont. 

There are so few of us in this state. And while we have created communities, affinity spaces, restaurants, etc., to support each other and surround ourselves in our culture, this month manages to magnify how few of us there really are. 

It is a hard month for our children to be in classrooms where they may be the “only,” learning about Black history in a room of people who may not understand why this month is dedicated to us, or why it even exists in the first place. Because, you know, “reverse racism.”

It is a hard month for Black educators, who are being asked by their peers to help develop lessons, find appropriate books, and pick appropriate movies that can be shared with classes. 

It is a hard month for Black parents (and white parents of Black kids) who have to have difficult conversations with their children when they come home sharing stories of the harm that has been done to them while sitting in these lessons. 

I have spoken to parents this month who have shared the frustration of listening circles, where a safe space has been created for dialogue. Unfortunately, some of these safe spaces are only truly safe for the students who want to be able to spew hate without fear of repercussions. They are not safe for our children who have to sit through “honest conversations.” Our children, who are being told, “if this is uncomfortable, you can always leave the room,” as if singling out and isolating our Black kids is showing empathy. 

I have spoken to parents who are frustrated because comments and laughter are happening in class during the viewing of cultural films, and those comments and laughter aren’t being addressed. This failure to address the problem just shows our children that it is OK to snicker at, laugh at, and make jokes about our culture. 

I have spoken to parents who are frustrated because the burden of education is falling on our shoulders. And when we choose to call out, instead of calling in, we are accused of being part of the problem, as if educating white Vermonters is our job. The weight of having to center white fragility over Black harm is exhausting.

So, while I want to celebrate my health and my wellness, I find myself this month, of all months, struggling the most. Carrying the weight of educating the educators, protecting my children, supporting my community, all while doing all the other tasks I have to do as a woman, mother, wife, activist, and organizer. My health and wellness come last. 

But one thing about the Black community that I have learned is that when you are too tired to carry the weight, there is always someone at your side to pick it up and let you rest. So, if you are truly committed to celebrating Black History Month and supporting this year’s theme, remove the burden of education and activism from your Black friends, family, colleagues. Let them rest. Pick up the weight, and carry it yourself for a little while.