Letter: A firsthand experience with racism in Vermont

I read with great interest the editorial in the Sunday, May 29, Westerly Sun, “Vermont should look in the mirror and confront racism,” from the Times Argus of Barre, Vt., regarding the prejudice being shown in Vermont. I have a story I would like to tell.

Two friends and I (two Narragansett Indian women of dark skin and myself, a “Swamp Yankee”) had visited the Church of God in Burlington, Vt., several years in a row.

I gave the message, Starr Mars sang and Jan Spears led the congregation in prayer at the request of the pastor. It was a congregation of white people, but they were very kind and welcoming to the three of us.

On one visit, we were late arriving, so we decided to stop at a small restaurant for dinner. We were the only ones there when we entered. The waitress ignored us completely. Two people came in and she took their order. They received it in a short time.

A group of four arrived and their order was taken and served. The three in my group sat there quietly. My friends knew what was happening, but being a white person, I didn’t catch on right away. I’d never faced racism before.

Well, I went to the kitchen door and asked the waitress why we were not being served when two tables had arrived after us and were already eating.

She sighed loudly and came to our table to take our order. Our salads arrived and the waitress placed them so heavily on the table that the lettuce jumped out of the bowl!

I noticed the table with four people staring at me (I was facing them and my friends had their backs to that table). The looks they were giving me were as though I had dirt on my face and wild hair. So I stood up, held up my hands and said, “Do you need a better look?” I then turned my back and said, “Here, is that enough?” These four white people all looked down at their meals and did not look up again.

My friends were appalled that I had made a scene. They were afraid we would be attacked when they left the restaurant!

When we arrived at the church, I told the congregation what had happened at the restaurant. One elderly lady said, “Good for you, girl.”

After the service, a man approached me and said, “I’m surprised at what happened. We don’t have any prejudice in Vermont.”

While he was saying that to me, his wife was saying to my Narragansett friend, “You sang beautifully. I heard you people could sing better than we whites.”

As we prepared to leave, we shared what we had been told. It was sad to see people did not even recognize prejudice when they were confronted with it.

Of course, we never ate at that restaurant again. And when one of my friends had left a tip, I picked it up and told her we tip for good service, not for long waits, sullen service and nasty looks.

Vermont doesn’t recognize what is happening in its own state. We came from Rhode Island. We are not prejudice-free, but we recognize prejudice when we see it and some of us confront it head-on. Recognizing a problem is the first step in solving it.

Sylvia Stanley

Hope Valley

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