The subtleties and the damage


By Grace Amao Ciffo

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Thousands before these strong men. I’ve been at a loss for the right words. And sad. And dejected because it feels like nothing ever changes. Tired of abuse of power. Tired of so much entitlement and callousness. And who am I to push unsolicited views? Well, I’m Grace Ifeloju Amao. I’m a Nigerian Vermonter (okay, half Nigerian, half European, 100% Proud of who I am and who I come from). This is no sob story.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve led a privileged life. But my 6’3” black father endured far too much overt racism in his life. Way too much of it right here in Vermont, in Chittenden County. In Hinesburg, even. So I know racism. I know shadism. I know the subtleties and I know the damage.

My white mother raised me in very white Hinesburg, first on her own and then with my white stepfather. I love my parents, who happen to be white, to death. I never wanted race to be a big deal. My biological father didn’t either, actually. He used to talk about people as rainbows, encourage us to shrug it off or just riff back, “Yeah, so what?” in the nasty face of the N-word.

But I can’t always hide in the comfort and kindness of my own kitchen, my own family, or my own little rural Shangri-La. Not when it really feels like there is a war raging. Not when the level of suffering and fear due to racial profiling and violence is rising.

Some of the people I love the most have seemed in the past to chafe the quickest, or be offended and even outraged, by the slightest suggestion of systemic racism in this country, especially when talking about white racism perpetrated on the black community in this country.

I watched a clear instance of racism right in my local market this week. But you know what? A bystander, a white woman, stepped in and stood up for the black man who was first ignored, then spoken down to and nearly refused service, by a store clerk. So that was beautiful to watch.

And the fact that so many Americans are bothered, are standing up in agreed outrage, is a good sign. Rather than the insane and cruel victim shaming and defensive excusing that we have so often seen and engaged in, we could get to a higher place in this country. We could. But first we have to come together and acknowledge that this problem of racism, especially against black men, is real. It shows up subtly (that’s what I often see here in Vermont) and behind closed doors. Sometimes it shows up in violence, sometimes in murder.

Racism, even “mild” racism, causes unimaginable pain. It stunts lives and potential, and we must flush it out, practice zero tolerance in public and in our social and private lives, and teach our children from day one that every single shade of human is equally beautiful and worthwhile.

Grace Amao Ciffo lives in her hometown of Hinesburg, and graduated from CVU.