Tag Archives: Haley Dover

I gotta say, sometimes it’s just nice to live in Vermont

I have often been critical of Vermonters’ exaggerated perception of their own inherent virtue. We’re far from perfect on race relations; there are subtle forms of sexism here that I haven’t seen elsewhere; and, of course, our vaunted reputation for environmentalism is largely due to forces out of our control: small population, not much industry, and lack of exploitable resources. Based on how we’ve handled Lake Champlain, or the damage done when we HAVE had the opportunity to do so (the Elizabeth Mine, the PFOA contamination around Bennington), I contend that if there was a lot of coal under the Green Mountains, we’d be West Virginia North.

But while I contend that Vermont isn’t as special as we think it is, I readily acknowledge that it definitely has its virtues. We have two examples from recent headlines, where other states are pursuing destructive, hateful paths while we quietly handle our business in a positive manner.

Example #1: the Vermont House passes — with broad bipartisan tripartisan support — a bill that would guarantee women’s access to contraception even if that section of Obamacare is repealed.

Example #2: The Agency of Education issues guidelines for supporting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

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The South Burlington Whitewash

There once was a town called Nigella. It was a nondescript little Podunk, located near a larger and more notable community. Its residents were almost entirely white. Its high school sports teams were named, in a more benighted era, the Niggers. Many of the kids would attend games in blackface, and the mascot was a Stepin Fetchit character who danced and hooted when the team scored a touchdown. All innocent fun, and no one in this lily-white town conceived otherwise.

Then came the civil rights era, and the school had a problem on its hands. The nickname was a piece of the town’s history, and nobody wanted to change it. So they dropped the mascot and banned the blackface, claiming the nickname was never intended as a racial slur — merely a light-hearted callback to the town’s real name.

You know where I’m going with this. Last night, the South Burlington School Board voted to keep the “Rebel” nickname, claiming that it had a specific meaning in their community and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Confederacy or slavery.

“It’s what we make of it. It’s something artificial,” said [an SBHS alum]. “I don’t think the intention is to offend anyone or promote racism.”

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Words acquire connotations. “Rebel” has other meanings, but its primary connotation is with the wrong side in the Civil War. You know, the one that wanted to keep on owning slaves, and was willing to kill the United States of America in order to do so.

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Sons of the North

In the aftermath of the June 17 terror attack in a South Carolina church, many people have reawakened to the awful connotations of the Confederate battle flag. The issue has reached South Burlington, whose high school sports teams have been called the Rebels since the school’s founding in 1962. There have been calls to change the name to something that better reflects an increasingly diverse community.

Defenders of the nickname have called the controversy “crazy” and insisted the name “could mean a lot of different things.” One pointed out that Americans were the “rebels” in the Revolutionary War, so maybe that’s what it means.

Well, the Burlington Free Press came up with a creative approach. It sent reporter Haley Dover to leaf through SBHS yearbooks from the 1960s. And what did she find?

Confederate battle flags all over the damn place.

In the school’s first yearbook from 1962, sketches of Civil War era soldiers with their swords and muskets can be found placed among the student photos. The inside cover of the yearbook from 1964 is the image of a fall mountain scene and a Confederate solider holding the southern-rooted flag. Numerous pages throughout the 1960s show the flag hanging behind the basketball team or behind two Key Club members shaking hands. Cheerleaders pose with the banner on the football field.

Obviously, the Rebel nickname was inspired by the Confederacy.

Now, I don’t think anyone at SBHS was overtly racist back then. They were just completely clueless, in what was then a lily-white community and state.

There’s still a lot of that cluelessness around today. Indeed, there’s a prime example in the Free Press article itself.

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