Vermont Research News: Racism and social justice in Vermont

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Vermont Research News: Racism and social justice in Vermont

Tue, 06/16/2020 - 9:55am -- tim
Incarceration by race
Vermont has seen a dramatic increase in the overall rate of imprisonment over the last 40 years with a disproportionately high rate of incarcerated BIPOC. While only 1.4% of the Vermont population is Black, Black people account for 8.5% of the Vermont prison population. UVM Professor of Sociology Kathy Fox discusses mass incarceration in our Mudseason podcast episode. Organizations addressing this issue include Justice for All VermontVermonters for Criminal Justice Reform (VCJR), and ACLU Vermont.
Driving while black and brown in Vermont
Dr. Stephanie Seguino, Professor of economics at UVM, has long been working to expose racial bias. Her research includes A Deeper Dive into Racial Disparities in Policing in Vermont (2018)a follow up toDriving While Black And Brown In Vermont (2017). The research finds that Black drivers in Vermont four times more likely to be searched by police during traffic stops but less likely to be found with illegal contraband. Seguino continues to advocate for transparency in local and state reporting of traffic stop data. For more information, listen to our Mudseason podcast with Seguino and watch our recent ExpertsLive.
Colorblind ideology study
What are the societal consequences of colorblind ideology in interactions between Vermonters? A recent paper explores how colorblind ideology is reproduced among students in the state of Vermont at an after-school program with majority non-White students and all White staff. Using discourse analysis, the research demonstrates how staff members discouraging students from engaging in talk about race inadvertently reproduces existing racialized discourses. This dictates what kind of talk is or is not acceptable, and by whom. The study concludes that socializing students into colorblind ideology ensures reproduction of the current social order, benefiting only the dominant group. 

Author Dr. Maeve Eberhardt is a Professor of Linguistics at UVM examining the ways in which language can be used to reproduce systemic power and privilege, as well how speakers in minoritized groups work to destabilize such systems through their linguistic and discursive practices. Other articles by Eberhardt include, First things first, I'm the realest’: Linguistic appropriation, white privilege, and the hip-hop persona of Iggy Azalea (2015). Eberhardt teaches the diversity courses Linguistic Diversity in the US and African American English at the University of Vermont.

Racism in Vermont’s school system
In February 1999, the Vermont Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights released Racial Harassment in Vermont Public Schools, which found that not only are attacks on non-white students taking place in Vermont schools, some school administrators have shown a reluctance or unwillingness to take necessary action to prevent these incidents. A progress report released in 2003 found that despite minor improvements, further action and oversight is needed to address racism in Vermont schools. 
More recently, Dr. Denise Helen Dunbar writes in Black Males in the Green Mountains: Colorblindness and Cultural Competence in Vermont Public Schools (2013) that, "there appeared to have been an overall lack of respect for students of color, especially related to teachers' and administrators' resistance to responding to racial issues" (p. 21). Hal Colston, Director of Partnership for Change, discusses this in a 2014 interview with the Peace and Justice Center. See also this interview with Rep. Colston about actions in the Vermont Legislature. 
Professor wins Carnegie Fellowship
After winning the Christopher Isherwood Prize for autobiographical prose in the Los Angeles Times 2020 Book Prizes competition for Black Is the Body: Stories From My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine, Dr. Emily Bernard, Professor of English at UVM, was recently named a 2020 Andrew Carnegie Fellow by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The award is for Bernard’s upcoming book, Unfinished Women, which tells the stories of successful black women from a range of professions and eras through a collection of narrative nonfiction essays.
Vermont and the geography of whiteness
“The U.S. state of Vermont is often portrayed as a place where “race” is of little significance, yet notions of whiteness are central to how the state has been represented and represents itself," begins Vermont and the Imaginative Geographies of American Whiteness by Dr. Robert M Vanderbeck, professor of Human Geography at the University of Leeds. Vanderbeck argues that Vermont’s imagined geography of whiteness aids in, “the reproduction of understandings and imaginings of racialized difference and ‘who belongs where,’” ultimately leading to exclusion and prejudice against non-white Vermonters. 
Dr. Amani Whitfield holding a 1783 bill of sale for an enslaved woman named Rose at UVM's Special Collections. Photo by Glenn Russell.

Slavery and Vermont’s constitution
Vermont’s constitution was the first to outlaw slavery, a fact often taught in Vermont schools and a point of pride for many Vermonters. In reality, slavery continued in the state for decades after being outlawed in 1777. This is the subject of The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810 by Dr. Harvey Amani Whitfield, Professor of history at UVM which examines how slavery illegally continued in Vermont during this period. In The Power of Erasure: Reflections on Civil War, Race, and Growing Up White in Vermont, historian Elise A. Guyette discusses Vermont’s history of institutional racism and asks why Vermonters neglect the discussion. This history of racism in Vermont is also examined by historian John M. Lovejoy in the article, Racism in Antebellum Vermont. Read historian Mark Bushnell's article one of the most famous racially motivated incidents in Vermont in this column and author Bill Schubart reflects on Vermont’s troubled history with racism, here.

Vermont and Eugenics
Another largely forgotten chapter in Vermont history is the Vermont Eugenics Survey, where those deemed to be “socially inadequate” were forcibly sterilized and institutionalized. The Survey, started by UVM professor of zoology Henry F. Perkins, primarily targeted Abenaki, French-Canadians, and those with disabilities. Documents show that sterilizations continued well into the 20th century, long after the Survey closed in 1936. Forced sterilizations have continued to occur in prisons around the country through the 21st century. The Eugenics Survey records do not contain sterilization records so the true number of those who were forcibly sterilized is unknown, but the legacy of eugenics is still felt by the families of those who were targeted. You can learn more about this period of Vermont history by reading Nancy L. Gallagher’s book Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State and historian Kevin Dann’s From Degeneration to Regeneration: The Eugenics Survey of Vermont 1925-1936Another resource is Gallagher's digital guide, Vermont Eugenics: A Documentary History. 
Black-owned Businesses in Vermont
According to the 2017 census, 36 of the 6,808 farms of all types in Vermont are owned by Black Vermonters or co-owned by Black Vermonters and somebody of a different race. This includes Clemmons Family Farm in CharlotteStrafford Organic Creamery in StraffordZafa WinesPine Island Community Farm in Colchester, and more. Additionally, here is a spreadsheet of BIPOC-owned businesses in Vermont.

Would you like to learn more about ways you can make Vermont a more inclusive and safe place for all Vermonters? Start by signing up for the Vermont Peace and Justice Center newsletter and check out this list of resources and organizations in Vermont supporting racial justice work. Also, follow UVM's Amazing Grace teach-ins. Black Lives Matter!

Copyright © 2019 Center for Research on Vermont, All rights reserved.
The Vermont Research News is a bi-monthly curated collection of Vermont research -- focused on research in the Vermont "laboratory" -- research that provides original knowledge to the world and research that adds to an understanding of the state's social, economic, cultural and physical environment.

Send your news items to Newsletter Editors Eliza Giles or Richard Watts.