Vermonters Strive to Preserve Their Culture against False Charges of Racism
In an ongoing cultural controversy in Vermont, a former House member named Kiah Morris has launched a video attacking Vermonters and their culture as racist. Ms. Morris has employed the empty trope that Vermonters who wish to preserve their traditional culture employ "political tactics [that] are historically consistent in the acceleration of increased discrimination, bias, and hate crimes against ethnic minorities and other marginalized people." It becomes necessary to expose the absurd toxicity of such rantings.
Ms. Morris's words reveal that she is not "from" Vermont. Yet this student of "gender studies" proclaims that "[u]nless you are First Nations, you have no right to claim who are real Vermonters. Nativist platforms are the basest level of discourse." Having immigrated to Vermont, Kiah has decided that she will decide who are real Vermonters. But does calling herself "African" American make her an appropriator of a foreign culture that she has likely never even visited? Is Ms. Morris asserting that those who "identify" themselves as disparate from other Americans because of a distant genetic link to Africa "employ the basest level of political discourse" to establish bias against white, "non-African" Americans?
If Louisiana tried to preserve Mardi Gras, Nevada invited people to gamble, or Missouri challenged people to "show me," would they be guilty of advancing "base nativist platforms"? In Vermont, a woman from Chicago who self-identifies as "African-American" but is not from Africa is scolding Vermonters for defending the culture into which they were born (that is, to which they are actually native) based solely on their non–American Indian DNA.
This sleight of hand is not so slight. Vermont conflates culture with race in its opioid crisis — blaming higher rates of incarceration of out-of-state (urban) blacks and Hispanics on systemic white nationalism. Ms. Morris further agitates by exerting a novel claim to superiority (of opinion) over the locals, in the process denigrating Vermont's historic agricultural Green Mountain creed. The city mouse has determined that the country mouse must be silenced, her guns seized, and her rights to an opinion stripped. Who here is the usurper of culture?
The cautions of T.S. Eliot in The Waste Land are evidenced in today's nihilism. Vermont is now being condemned for seeking to preserve its values by those who patch together their own mutable culture from a world where culture is itself being dissolved. Globalization is a destroyer of culture, as world trade has always been. But there are no new worlds to be colonized — the new oppressors must land on existing shores, plundering from within. Thus, in the name of diversity, Vermont's schoolbooks are to be rewritten. But after all the other cultures have been integrated, after Vermont country bumpkins have been inculcated into the teachings of the Dalai Lama, the art of hip-hop, and the culture of the ghetto, will Vermont export its culture to Harlem or Tibet in exchange? Will there remain a distinct Vermont culture, like Louisiana, or Maine, or Texas — or must all submit to the imprint and domination of the Kiah Morris conquistadores? Will all cultures then meld into a meaningless "Waste Land," as Eliot predicted?
Per Ms. Morris and her ilk, only "First Nations" people have authority to override her determination of what constitutes Vermont culture — that is, only people of a certain race. She uses racism to select an extinguished race as authority to dismiss an entire culture as a racist invasion — how convenient, if circuitous. By this logic, America has no claim to culture.
Vermont is a culture of individualism, not government dependency; farming, not commuting; free speech, not stifling autocracy; of seeing all people as equal. This existing and longstanding culture will not yield to invasive transplants who foment discord for personal advantage.
Tragically, many white Vermonters have unwittingly joined this insidious virtue-signaling, revealing their nihilistic disconnect from their own culture. Vermont writer Bill Schubart perorates:
"What to you is a real Vermonter?" The conventional answer I've heard and tacitly subscribed to all my life is — a white person, often from an agrarian background, descended from at least three generations of the same.
But Mr. Schubart's "tacit subscription" is hardly the truth, as all Vermonters know. Throngs of "foreign-born" people have comfortably integrated into Vermont's culture, even as many native-born opportunists have become exploiters of Vermont's land, landscape, and culture for financial gain. It is Mr. Schubart who designs to equate culture with race and bloodlines, and he of all people should know just how pernicious and vicious that is.
Mr. Schubart unintentionally reveals his cultural ignorance when he writes of "the memorable Abenaki land ceremony which made so clear that we are all part of a continuum of stewardship ... hardly, as we imagine, the beginning of civilization." Perhaps this gentleman just now learned from Abenakis that all humans are necessarily involved with stewardship — and never read Aldo Leopold, Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, or John Muir. (By his own admission, he only recently learned from children that he is "a white, privileged, cisgendered male.") But it was he — and not all Vermonters — who apparently imagined himself "the beginning of civilization." Vermonters have always known that their ancestors were settlers and that they were stewards of forests and farms. As Wendell Berry observes, intergenerational farmers (of any color, not just the white ones maligned by Mr. Schubart) are the best stewards of land.
I was born John Stoddard Klar in Connecticut, after being conceived in Vermont. I am thus a flatlander by birth but a Vermonter by creation! I live off-grid in Vermont on land purchased by my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Solomon Stoddard, in about 1815. My paternal grandmother was of significant Abenaki blood, and my paternal grandfather was a German Jew. My identity has always been woven into this land and Vermont's rural, anachronistic culture — not my DNA. When people like Kiah Morris and Bill Schubart employ racism to defame my dozens of forbears, they are calling my mother, grandmothers and grandfathers, cousins, aunts and uncles — and my children — all racists, all invaders with no claim to their own culture. How absurd can these people be? What kind of Vermonter labels all Vermonters, and all white people, as racist? Have they never met any of us, or did they simply gulp down the progressive Kool-Aid in lieu of (native) maple syrup?
Identity politics seems to best serve those who lack identity — Vermonters are already quite aware of their cultural traditions and identity and wish to protect them from carpetbagger vultures (of any color and any birthplace). We are frugal, tied to our land (often for many generations), in the midst of a national society that flips houses, consumes conspicuously, and is highly mobile. As that global disintegration, urbanization, and industrialization of human relationships increases, "real" Vermonters wish to preserve those nurturing traditions and values that have weathered time well. We are trying to reclaim our decaying communities, not denigrate them and their humble histories. We cling without racism to our nativist traditions. And without shame.