Varon: Silver linings, ominous clouds
Mourning brings about a horrible rollercoaster of emotions. Mourning total strangers is a whole other level. This week, month, year, and heck, lifetime has stopped me dead in my tracks.
I would not consider myself an optimist. There has been no pretense on my part. However, the outpouring of support from the Vail Valley has been life-changing. I did not know George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, or Trayvon Martin. Do you get the point? These are not isolated incidents.
Frankly, I am not sure what was different about this one. I am not sure why my previous outrage cast me as some type of black sheep, or even a punk (thank you to whoever put that comment on one of the Vail Daily posts).
What I do know is that the grief from our community over the killing of George Floyd is deep, and the grief is heartfelt. I looked in the eyes of other protesters, heard their voices and saw that things have changed. What was once a fringe opinion, that Black Lives Matter, has turned into an almost universal concept. I say almost because these silver linings come with ominous dark clouds.
Buried within the overwhelmingly positive reactions and messages are the “laugh” reactions, along with unabashedly racist remarks, ignorant Candace Owens talking points, and even direct-messaged threats to my life and livelihood. I do not have time to out all the racists, but I can tell you that I must make a concerted effort to avoid comment sections and many message requests. If you know me at all, you know how difficult that is.
What that means is that there are still people out there who think kneeling on someone’s neck for nearly nine minutes, or deciding they are neighborhood watch and murdering a jogger, is OK. Not only are they out there, but they are also vocal about it!
Do you honestly think that there will ever be an event, or corresponding protest or march, that will change their minds? Do you think this will really be the last time? I certainly hope so.
I also know that for every racist like this, there is a much more sinister culprit like Dylann Roof waiting for their glory in the annals of white supremacist lore. While I might have drawn the ire of folks in this group before, now I have legitimate fears. As the target of a racially-motivated assault by three men in Vail in January 2018, I know my skin color presents certain dangers most people do not think about.
I was not afraid then, and I am not afraid now. Most artists know what emotional or physical reaction they hope for when they produce a work or piece of content. Of all the things I have ever put out there, the picture of me alone with my sign, taken by my extremely supportive girlfriend Charice Rucker, had an effect that went beyond my wildest expectations.
After 400 years of overt and heinously subtle subjugation, STRONGER TOGETHER seemed like the punchline of a horrible joke. After being hit with a large dose of optimism, I see that it is truly the only way.
Now, we must face the uncomfortable steps of changing this reality. We must vote in and otherwise empower people who stand up for reparations, the end of the War on Drugs, and stronger oversight on law enforcement. To ignore cause and effect, that the direct and indirect slaveholder wealth in this country has the power to change this, yet do nothing except build $10 million houses (with no A/C), is to protest in vain. Thank you again for supporting and considering this important cause.
Zach Varón is a third-generation Coloradan living in Vail. He is a sales manager, artist, competitive big mountain snowboarder, and entrepreneur who owns Treeline, Ltd.