A look at racism in our region
08/13/08 12:00PM By Jane Lindholm
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We explore what racism looks like in our region. In Vermont, 97% of the population is white, and less than 1% is African American. UVM's Director of the Center for Cultural Pluralism, Sherwood Smith, and Vermont's only African-American Human Rights Commissioner, Shirley Boyd-Hill, join us to talk about issues of racism. Does it tend to be overt and conscious? Or is it often unintentional, or institutional? And, is it an issue we talk enough about? (Listen)
Also on the program, we visit a program in Morrisville that helps young girls learn mountain biking skills. But, the Dirt Divas program is about much more than just the bikes...it's about helping girls gain self-confidence and build supportive relationships. (Listen)
Emails from Listeners--
Email from Patricia in Lyndonville--
I'm glad you're doing a show today focusing on racism. I'm sure your guests will speak about the institutional nature of racism instead of limiting the discussion to only its individual manifestations. I also hope your guests will speak to the social construction of race, how and why race was constructed historically in the United States and how the system of racism that continues quite robustly today benefits white people - and that includes white people in Vermont.
Email from Judith in Brattleboro-
Here in Brattleboro, some of us have been surprised and alarmed at the
re-emergence of racism in the High School recently. How do we fight against
racism? One way is to form circles of support which can formulate plans to
combat racism both in advance of negative appearances and also as ongoing efforts of education and advocacy against racism in all its forms. Another way is to support ALANA Community Organizaion based here in Brattleboro.
Email from Linda in Stowe--
Thank you for having a discussion on race/racism in Vermont. I think
it is important to remember that racism can take more subtle forms, even in
independent/progressive places like Vermont. My wife is of Hispanic descent and we recently moved here from TX. We introduced ourselves to a local post office where the mail was being held in person under my first name and our shared surname, and on subsequent visits to pick it up, my wife was never asked for ID to pick up the mail. When I went in to pick up the mail, the post office worker said, "You look nothing like your wife. I'm going to need some id." I told her that wasn't a problem and clarified that my spouse is my wife, not my sister. If my name was Smith, I don't think I would have had the same issue. The postal worker made a point of saying the reason she was checking my ID was because I didn't look Hispanic (never mind the fact that she should always check id, regardless of racial profiling).
We have also observed Vermonters locking their car doors upon seeing an African-American walk down the street but they don't do it when others walk by. It is the subtle acts like this that make VT a less comfortable place for individuals and families.
Email from Benjamin--
I just completed a thesis for Dartmouth College on the situation of Mexican dairy workers in Vermont. The dairy workers regularly described Vermont as more racist than other states they had lived in in the United States, citing most importantly the higher rates of deportation from the state of Vermont.
Email from Greg in Burlington--
Hello, I'm not sure so much about being able to discuss racism but would like to discuss a broader issue.
It's this entire "post" issue that Barack Obama is being portrayed
with. There is some validity to it. Another observation is the influx
of new immigrants to the Burlington and while they are Black Africans,
they are not part of the Black American Experience and seem to carry
themselves in a different manner. It's quite easy to notice they are a
different crowd even when they wear American clothing.
The dangerous part of these kind of discussions is that you cannot even freely discuss such topics without being branded racist yourself. That in itself has many not even want to participate.
There are many types of Prejudicial Behaviors in our society. Take having a mental disability or an emotionally difficult time. Watch how you are labeled "disruptive" at a hospital if you have a terminal cancer if you get upset. Disruptive to the point the hospital with ban you for simply being upset.
Watch how your friends will no longer call you if you have these kind of issues.
Email from Stephen in Springfield--I know you will be flooded with a great deal of sanctimony from hypocritical
white liberals who have settled in Vermont, deeply concerned about the Evils of Racism. My own perspective is a little bit different.
By way of background, I spent grade school in Chester, was graduated from
Brattleboro Union High School, and later from UVM. The year after that, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I spent several years living in an inner-city neighborhood; near the H Street corridor, long a symbol of urban blight, poverty, and crime, and justly so. The daily body count was only beginning to rise back then, and crack cocaine had just hit the city. I, my roommates and my next door neighbors were the only white people on the block; I was the only one from Vermont.
I witnessed the entire human drama in small. Besides the crime, which my
roommates personally experienced, I also saw black women, black churches, and a handful of youth try to contain the poverty, to marshal their minimal resources to make anything better, to channel their rage and pain to the betterment of the neighborhood, and, most importantly, never to give up. I grew to admire their efforts, and offered aid when I could -- and joined in when allowed. As you can imagine, trust was never easy.
I'll tell you who I did not see there: earnest white liberals. They were not
volunteering in soup kitchens. They were not donating to the churches. They
were not trying to help those who did not know how to get medical care, or
where they could turn for help, and they were certainly not going to associate
personally with those people.
The pressures of single parenthood forced me to return to Vermont, and to
Brattleboro, which I found to be festering with the sort of white liberal
hypocrisy that so angered my D.C. neighbors, who told me over and over again that they preferred an honest Klansman to the sort of lip-service liberal who offered naught but rhetoric and disdain. These same people who declaimed their abhorrence of racism but had no black friends left urban environments en masse to come to Vermont in order to lecture the natives about racism. They could safely face what they saw in the mirror here.
I found that you pay a heavy penalty when you point this out to them, and I
have no doubt I'm doing myself no favor by pointing it out again. The fact is, in the 1980s they were quite happy to be arrested protesting apartheid in South Africa and meeting celebrities, but they never pulled an agonized old man out of the gutter as I once did and got him to the hospital. They never pulled a frightened child out of the way of a crazed and angry parent, never called the cops when an elderly woman collapsed in the street. But I'm sure they cherish their autographs.
So, to bring this full circle, I reiterate that you will get a lot of the usual
rhetoric from those who want to pat themselves on the back for their tolerance. I'll believe it when I see them volunteering in a D.C. school.