In the same week when a state lawmaker denied the existence of systemic racism in Vermont, there were hearings on three separate bills designed to atone for some of the most racist passages in state history.
Rep. Art Peterson, R-Of Course, opened his yap and revealed the hatred within during a Wednesday hearing on H.210, which would address racial disparities in health care. If you want details, click the link above. I’ll just note that Peterson (also known for opposing the display of a Black Lives Matter flag) entered the Legislature after narrowly defeating one of the most decent men in the Legislature, Dave Potter, last fall. Definitely not an improvement.
Let’s take the three bills one at a time, shall we?
J.R.H.2 is making a return engagement. It was on track to passage in 2020… until the pandemic hit. The resolution was one of many bills sidetracked as a result. But now it’s back.
The two-page resolution ticks off the lowlights of Vermont’s practice of sterilizing those considered unworthy of reproducing. It’s worth reading just for the refresher on what we’re capable of. The second-to-last paragraph contains an apology to “all individual Vermonters and their families and descendants who were harmed” by the policy.
But it goes even further, closing with this:
…the General Assembly recognizes that further legislative action should be taken to address the continuing impact of State-sanctioned eugenics policies and related practices of disenfranchisement and ethnocide leading to genocide.
The further action might include a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to thoroughly document Vermont’s eugenics movement and the harm that resulted.
Speaking of T&RCs, H.96 would set the stage for “one or more …commissions to examine and begin the process of dismantling institutional, structural, and systemic discrimination in Vermont, both past and present.”
Its immediate effect would be the creation of, you guessed it, a Task Force “to develop and submit to the General Assembly a proposal for legislation” that would create a commission or commissions.
Normally I’m not a fan of task forces and special commissions; they’re often the last refuge of the timid, used to postpone actual decision-making. In this case, the Task Force would have some value in laying out the case for future T&RCs. Because Vermont has plenty of Art Petersons who believe our state is uniquely immune to racism.
Finally comes a bill that you wouldn’t think we need: H.116 would ban the practice of involuntarily sterilizing “individuals with an intellectual disability.”
What? You might be thinking. Surely we haven’t allowed that in decades?
You’d be surprised. The heyday of this abominable practice was in the 1920s and 30s. But the last known involuntary sterilization occurred in 1957. (The last one in the United States happened in Oregon in 1981.) And apparently it was never formally banned in state law.
Time to close that loophole, eh?
H.96 is in the House Human Services Committee. Let’s send best wishes to all three bills. It’s time we faced our own past clearly and honestly.
We’ll close with a nugget from Rep. Peterson, who stumbled through an exchange with the brilliant Xusana Davis, Vermont’s executive director of racial equity. First he asked her to provide “a specific, concrete” example of racial bias in health care. She had one at the ready: a passage from a medical textbook asserting that Black people are more tolerant of pain than white folks. She pointed to studies that show Black patients are less likely to be given pain medication.
Peterson pooh-poohed that as racist acts of individuals — which doesn’t at all explain the medical textbook. He then denied that anyone would read that and underprescibe pain meds for Black patients — which, as I said above, is a documented fact.
In a later conversation with VTDigger, he doubled down — saying that racism comes from individual acts, not systemic issues. (Should have asked him about eugenics, eh?) And then came the topper: He put the blame on the targets of discrimination.
“Some people can overcome it and go right through it and have great and successful lives. Other people let it hold them back,” he said.
Okay, Art. I guess those women who were sterilized without consent shouldn’t have “let it hold them back”? Cripes.