Vermont was a place people called home long before the first white settlers got here, before it was even called Vermont. Indigenous Americans such as the Abenaki and the Mahican tribes have been here for 10,000 years and still are today.
In terms of slavery, Vermont responded to the abolitionist call to outlaw slavery on July 2, 1777 by becoming the first colony to ban it outright. However, many people residing in Vermont ignored this and continued to own slaves and also kidnap free slaves. Other People Of Color in Vermont, including Latinx Vermonters and Asian Americans, were still discriminated against in many ways, and continue to be today.
Despite this, Vermont has an array of positive history that we should celebrate! For example, Alexander Twilight was a Person of Color who was accepted to Middlebury College - the first Person of Color in America to be accepted into higher education! Additionally, 150 Black Vermonters enlisted to fight in the Civil War.
But there are some negative aspects. In 1997, the Governor stripped away the rights of Abenaki Vermonters. Up until the 1980s, there were cross burnings and other racist acts in Vermont. And did you know, Vermont was the second to last state to make Martin Luther King Jr day a National Holiday?
Fast forward to today: we have a lot to celebrate, but we also have a lot to work on.
Racism exists in healthcare; Americans of Color were more likely to get COVID. The hospitalization rates and death rates in America per 10 000, respectively, were 24.6 and 5.6 for Black patients, 30.4 and 5.6 for Hispanic patients, 15.9 and 4.3 for Asian patients, and 7.4 and 2.3 for White patients. There has long been a myth, back to the time of slavery, that Black people and other People of Color have a higher tolerance for pain, leading to less medical treatment. And it’s not just physical health, it’s mental too: there are more suicide attempts among young People of Color than White people.
Criminal Justice also is a place where racism is rampant. For example, Black Vermonters are 3.5x more likely than White Vermonters to be stopped and searched by police, 6x more likely to be incarcerated, and 14x more likely to be charged with a felony drug offense.
One other institution where racism exists is housing. America has a long history of redlining: mapping out neighborhoods based on race, when POC were more likely to be restricted to poor and under-resourced neighborhoods. Although redlining didn’t exist as much in Vermont as other states, housing discrimination still very much did. People of Color were excluded from housing covenants and are still to this day discriminated against in the housing market.
VSARN focuses on mitigating all these different aspects of racism through one institution: the education system. We believe that changing racism starts with the youngest Vermonters, and we need to educate young people on the truth so that they can grow up to change systems. We also believe that we need to change school culture. Currently, Black students are more than twice as likely than White students to be arrested at school. Black girls are 2.6x as likely. Microaggressions and blatant outright racism exist on our school campuses every day, and our schools desperately lack teachers of color. If we change education, we can change society, and VSARN is committed to building a better system where students of color - and all students - thrive.