At 57:25 mark, Kumulia “Kase” Long answers Human Services Committee Chair Ann Pugh’s question about systemic racism in Vermont.
By Guy Page
The Vermont House Human Service Committee Wednesday heard a black Vermonter question whether racism is at the root of racial inequalities in public health.
Kumulia “Kase” Long of Milton spoke for about a half-hour during committee testimony and discussion about JRH6, ‘a joint resolution relating to racism as a public health emergency.”
The resolution, introduced by mostly Progressives and liberal Democrats, commits the Legislature “to the sustained and deep work of eradicating systemic racism throughout the State, actively fighting racist practices, and participating in the creation of more just and equitable” and to “eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism.”
The resolution outlines many public health inequalities between blacks and whites:
- Black residents comprise just over one percent of Vermont’s population, but comprise about 4.8 percent of confirmed COVID-19 cases through 12/16/2020.
- Black Vermonters are overrepresented (6%) among Vermonters experiencing homelessness.
- Non-White (including Black) Vermonters are: (1) statistically less likely to have a personal doctor; (2) statistically more likely to report poor mental health; (3) more than twice as likely to report rarely or never getting the necessary emotional and social support; (4) significantly more likely to have depression; (5) significantly more likely to have been worried about having enough food in the past year; and (6) significantly more likely to report no physical activity during leisure time.
Long is a Milton resident and, as of this March, a selectboard member. Last year he ran for the Vermont state senate as a Republican. The only black person present, he questioned whether these disparities are due to race or economic factors. Saying that “I do not speak for any group, other than myself,” the former military analyst looked at the data in the resolution and asked pointed questions to the all-white committee.
For example, the resolution declares that Vermont residents experience barriers to equal enjoyments to good health based on race and ethnicity. He asked, “Is this due to racism, or can this be attributed to economic disparity and inequality?” (See on YouTube at 49:38.)
The resolution also finds that “21 percent of Black Vermonters own their own homes, while 72 percent of White Vermonters own their own homes, and nationally, 41 percent of Black Americans own their own homes.” Long asked, “If non-white Vermonters want to buy [homes], but can’t, is that due to racism? Or is it due to economic inequality? Also, is it because they are unable or because they don’t want to?”
Noting that “median household income of Black Vermonters is $41,533 while the median household income of White Vermonters is $58,244,” Long asked, “Is the [difference in] median household pay due to racism? And if it’s not, then how is this statement relevant?”
When he finished his testimony, Chair Ann Pugh (D-South Burlington) asked Long if he agreed there is systemic racism in Vermont. His response – in short, yes there is racism and the solution is restoring economic and educational equality – can be seen and heard at the 57:25 mark.
Racism is a problem, it exists everywhere,” Long said. “We are looking to tackle an issue that will never go away. The human race will always have something to fight over….however, If we can address economic inequality, we can help a much bigger group,” Long said. “We can help lift each other up.”
In discussion that followed, the Democrats and Progressives on the committee generally embraced the resolution as written, while Republicans raised questions similar to Long’s. At present, the resolution is still in House Human Services.