In a collection of provocative photographs people are seen holding white boards with messages that include: "I am not an exchange student." "You look so ethnic." "I am only into black guys." "No I'm not adopted." "You're good at sports because you're black." "Your hair is so different. Can I touch it?" All these photos include the hash tag #IAmVermontToo.
And what the photos and the message on them reveal is a series of microaggressions people of color face all the time, living in a state that is so overwhelmingly white.
The project is co-coordinated by Sha'an Mouliert of St. Johnsbury and Shela Linton of Brattleboro. I Am Vermont Too is modeled after the I Too Am Harvard project, and it was a medium to bring to light the experiences of people of color living in Vermont. The photos were on exhibit at the Vermont State House in February and they are currently on exhibit at Lyndon State College.
Mouliert explains microaggressions as actions, words, experiences that people of color feel from the larger population. "It can be conscious or unconscious. It's cumulative. So you might start your day feeling great you turn on the news and just the way your described like a nonwhite is a small microaggression. And if you continue your day with anything as small as that, or someone calling you an offensive name, these describe microaggressions and microaggression is something that makes you feel less than human."
"We have one from a city Burlington City Council member and his microaggression was 'how could an immigrant become a city council member?' Another one from a seven year old who talked about having his hair touched. And here is a very big issue. A lot of people don't recognize especially for African-Americans and this goes back to the slave auctions to the slave box where you were treated as an animal. So the way we would look at a horse or a cow today is how we were looked at. And that's a legacy that still lives within us," Mouliert said.
Mouliert says in addition to bringing to light these microaggressions, she hopes the project will bring together Vermonters of color and help the state look at the ways racism impacts the state.
"When you look at the fact that we are less than four percent of the population. When you think of legislation, when you think of the health care system, when you think of how we develop communities that our point of view is not taken into consideration. And the sad thing is that Vermonters are losing. Vermonters are losing economic resources because many of us are not able to find employment. Some of us come here with the job being recruited but because we don't feel welcomed and embraced here, they leave. So not only are we losing economically but we are losing culturally. We are, if you stop and think of the other states, how can we compete with other states who have a more diverse or more culturally diverse population than Vermont does?"