Keelan: Well-meant report on Vermont racism goes sideways

by Don Keelan

Several months ago, the Vermont Students Antiracism Network organization issued a 19-page report called the Vermont Racial Equity Report, 2022. The organization sent the report to most, if not all, Vermont high schools. 

For those unfamiliar with VSAN, here are the organization’s Mission and Vision Statements as noted on its website: “We endeavor to educate ourselves and others about race power, privilege, and oppression in order to foster a more inclusive and anti-racist community starting with our school. We strive to disrupt the racial hierarchy of our society starting within our group.’

Don Keelan

VSAN’s Vision Statement provides more specifics: “We envision a Vermont that actively works to redress injustice and seeks to center voices of color. We envision a Vermont that acknowledges the ways that racism and other oppressions are historically and institutionally embedded realizing our ethical obligation to address and combat these oppressions. We envision change coming from fair and accurate accounting in schools about history and systemic racism.”

The Report calls attention to the history of racism in Vermont, as far back as the 17th Century and as recent as a few years ago. The Report also accentuates the pattern of racism that exists in housing, health care, and the criminal justice system. 

The Report’s second part outlines the results of a high school student survey; however, only at one school, Bennington’s Mount Anthony Union High School. 

Anytime one reduces a controversial subject to writing, there will be a reaction: for it, against it, or neutral. For this columnist, it is much the same. 

I wish to thank the three high school students (one now in college) who authored the report. It took substantial time to research, compile surveys, interview, write, edit, publish, and distribute. A piece like this does not happen if you only spend your time on social media. 

But with any published piece, there can be room for suggestions, criticism, or both. The Vermont Racial Equity Report 2022 is no different. 

One noticeable item was that the report contained many generalizations and lacked specificity: “Vermont has disparities in the criminal justice system that are on par with the South.” Really?

Another: “Black people are also more likely to live in food deserts.” Where? The report says, “Today, many neighborhoods are still segregated because of the legacy of redlining and racial covenants.” Again, where?

The report also notes, “In 1997, a new governor stripped away the rights and recognition of Abenaki Vermonters.” I know who that governor was and believe the accusation is taken out of context, which is too bad. 

Many other generalizations are noted, but what is unmentioned is any positive experiences in Vermont (and elsewhere) over the past four centuries regarding the BIPOC community. Hopefully, that will be in a follow-up report. 

But the report went far from its Mission Statement when the authors enlisted the assistance of The Vision of the Other Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley. The Institute was founded by the Walter and Evelyn Haas, Jr. Fund, a ½ billion-dollar family foundation that directs its support to left-leaning causes. 

The authors used the Institute as the primary source for their “Recommended Solutions.” They listed a host of fixes that should be implemented in “Policing, Criminal, Youth, Housing, Economic Justice, Education (only a partial listing).”  They include: eliminating traffic stops; qualified immunity; cash bail; guaranteed living income; mass incarceration and decreasing prison population; ending student debt, closing the racial wealth gap, producing 600,000 low and moderate housing in a year and 6 million in the next five years; and establishing universal health care and expand Medicare. 

The above are controversial, complex, and highly emotional issues.  Had I not asked one of the report’s author’s for the source, I would have concluded that Senator Bernie Sanders was involved. It reads like his goals, and that is when I concluded the report had gone sideways from being a report on the history of racism in Vermont to information on polarized political objectives.     

The author is a U.S. Marine (retired), CPA, and columnist living in Arlington, VT.


Categories: Commentary

2 replies »

  1. Since more percentage of Black Vermonters live in towns, rather than out in the country, it seems untrue that they would live in “food deserts”. I live in Irasburg. To get food that I need, I must drive or hitchhike into Newport. Getting in is problematical. Getting back is more difficult. One night took 4 hours.
    Such are “food deserts” in VT. Where do these people get their information?
    VT outlawed slavery in 1777!

  2. The fact is that such reports start with false premises of entrenched racism which hasn’t ended, nor even substantially improved.