There’s plenty of evidence that Vermont has a racism problem. Stephanie Seguino finds it whenever she sorts traffic stops by race. Home ownership statistics reveal a past and present real estate market riven by racism. Gov. Phil Scott saw enough of a problem that he created the position of Director of Racial Equity. If you prefer evidence of the real-life variety, ask any Vermonter of color.
But this report from the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (outlined in this story by VTDigger’s Seamus McAvoy) put together a bunch of appalling facts and figures in one neat little package. There’s nothing new here; it’s just a Balsamic reduction of racist outcomes that explodes on the tongue.
The CCRPC’s annual ECOS report shows that in the liberal bastion of Chittenden County, in the heart of Bernie Sanders country, BIPOC residents do more poorly in school, are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, have substantially lower incomes, have been far more likely to contract Covid-19, and tend to hold jobs that put them at high risk for Covid exposure. (It also shows that county schools are failing to meet the needs of immigrant and refugee children. Put a marker there for when we talk about how best to welcome New Americans in the future.)
Systemic forces must be at work. To deny that is like being on a hike and coming across bear tracks, claw marks on trees, a ruined beehive and a big ol’ pile of bear shit, and insisting there ain’t no bears in these woods.
There’s a hell of a lot of bear scat in this report.
Let’s start with education, the bedrock of future prosperity. Eighty-six percent of white 3rd-graders in the county were proficient on the Smarter Balanced Language Arts Test. That figure falls to 37% for students eligible for free or reduced-priced lunches. For BIPOC students? Fourteen percent. (And 13% for English language learning students.)
You could try to blame bad parenting or financial insecurity or substandard housing or whatever. But you can’t just say “Well, BIPOC parents don’t do a good job” or “What do you expect from kids who are poor and hungry?” Because, for starters, painting BIPOC people with that brush is pretty damn racist in itself. But beyond that, can you really claim that background or upbringing accounts for all of that Grand Canyon achievement gap? Eighty-six to 14? No, you can’t.
Unless you want to float the good old-fashioned “Black people have smaller brains” bullshit.
Third-grade reading level is a very good predictor of future success. So it stands to reason that median incomes reflect systemic bias. The median income for whites in the county is $78,292. For Black residents, it’s $37,004 — less than half the median for whites.
Again, this is Chittenden County we’re talking about here. The most diverse county in the state, one of the most liberal places in the country, and presumably the county that’s adapted best to diversity.
The income gap feeds into a gap in home ownership, a key measure of financial stability. Sixty-four percent of White households own their own homes, compared to only 17% of Black households.
Statewide, those figures are 72% and 21%, so fairly consistent with Chittenden County. And equally appalling. Which means that, by this one measure, the happy, welcoming communities in our most diverse county aren’t doing any better than any other part of the state.
Finally, the disturbing figures on coronavirus. BIPOC residents account for 12% of the county’s population — but 33% of its Covid cases. The ECOS report also notes that BIPOC residents are over-represented in high-risk jobs. They are, the report says, “disproportionately represented in essential frontline jobs that cannot be done at home, offer less access to paid sick time, and involve closer physical contact with the public.”
And the icing on this cake: They’re being paid less for their greater exposure to the pandemic. We may not have anything as blatant as the murder of George Floyd, but racism exacts a heavy toll on our communities of color.
The fact that our systemic racism is mostly of the subtle and indirect sort — at least until you look at the outcomes — means that white Vermont is likely unaware of its contribution to this mess. We don’t fully know how and why the system works against people of color. Which means we haven’t yet begun to figure out how we fix it.