I read Ms. Bucknam’s op-ed, "The emperor has no clothes," with frustrated dismay. Ms. Bucknam seems to be saying that: 1. Racism doesn’t exist in Vermont but was invented by “Vermont’s cultured class;” 2. Only the Vermont “elites” are guilty of systemic or institutionalized racism, with which they tried to; 3. prevent the election of Bernie Sanders to the Senate; and 4. Hiring an executive director of racial equity to study systemic racism is a big waste of taxpayer money. This opinion piece is long on accusation but short on evidence.
First, let’s look at whether or not Vermont has a problem with racism. As Ms. Bucknam has not experienced racism herself and therefore; believes that it does not exist, I am assuming that she is white (pretty self-centered — I haven’t experienced testicular pain as I am female, am I allowed to decree that it doesn’t exist?). However, racism does exist in Vermont. I will include a few incidents of the last two years:
In 2019, we had at least four reported incidents of racist graffiti.
In September 2018, Kiah Morris gave up her seat as a representative due to constant harassment and threats from a gun-collecting white supremacist. The harassment included, in Ms. Morris’ words, “a home invasion, vandalism, even the woods near my house where we’d go and walk frequently as a family had swastikas painted all over the trees there.”
In August 2018, Pact campers, children of color adopted by white parents, were assailed by racial slurs in Stowe.
In February 2018, white supremacist signs and stickers were posted at Saint Michael’s College and at UVM.
In October 2017, a 44-year-old man pled guilty to stalking a high school student over the South Burlington Rebel’s name change.
These are just the events that make the newspapers. There is a wealth of anecdotal evidence of racism from my family, friends, colleagues and students. One example that particularly angers me is the story of an 11-year-old girl, walking home alone, having racial slurs yelled at her from a passing car. I heard about that from a teacher. One wonders if Ms. Bucknam ever considered asking a person of color what his or her experience has been like here?
So, despite Ms. Bucknam’s belief to the contrary, racism is a real problem here in Vermont.
We know of systemic racism in Vermont, as well. In March 2018, an updated study confirmed racial bias in police stops. The 2017 and 2018 studies both showed that in Vermont, black and Hispanic drivers were “more likely to be stopped and searched, were less likely to be caught with contraband” (Jeffrey Wakefield, "New Study Confirms Racial Disparities in Stops/Searches"). This is why we need to hire an executive director of racial equity. We need all Vermonters to receive equal protection under the law.
I realize talking about racism is difficult. Sometimes we may be confronted by some thoughtless word or deed of our own that maybe isn’t flattering. But isn’t the well-being of our fellow Vermonters more important than our fragile feelings?
I am sorry Ms. Bucknam is in denial about racism and believes it to be an invention of the elite, unlike “real” problems such as the opioid crisis. Yes, the opioid crisis is important. So is this. We do not have the luxury of dealing with only one crisis at a time. I believe that it is important for all Vermonters to feel safe, no matter their race, their religion or their sexual orientation. Ms. Bucknam might find it illuminating to read the poem of another Vermonter, a 14-year-old, titled "To All the People Who Hate Muslims." She can find it online in the Addison County Independent or the VPR Young Writers Project.
Alison Cerutti lives in Northfield.