How To Support Vermonters Of Color: 'Listen To Us'
How can a state that is 94% white do better? Vermonters of color weigh in to answer this listener question.
Note: Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening if you can! But we also provide a transcript below.
Disclaimer: Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Angela Evancie: Yeah, so let's, I'll say 1-2-3 and then we'll snap, like snap into the mic. That might help us. OK ready? 1, 2, 3 ...
Bryant Denton: Hopefully that sounded alright!
Angela Evancie: OK cool, well, Bryant - do you want to just sort of tell us the story of Matt?
Bryant Denton: Yeah. So, his name's Matt Clark.
Matt Clark: Those are the questions you should've been asking me! Real-life personal questions! I think I got - I'm just shook with the microphone in front of me.
Bryant Denton: Born Burlington, grew up in Essex. He's 33 years old. And so at high school, he said there were only two to three Black people in the school, total. So that's just, you know, an early introduction to the sort of - you know, the way Vermont is. And that's kind of what we were talking about.
Matt Clark: You know, being one of the few Black students, a lot of people want to know my background. Depending on who you were or how you said it, you know, they'd try to touch your hair. That was always a huge one. You know, people always want to touch Black people's hair. They're just interested. And sometimes, you know, especially with my name, that's not a very, if you will, Black name. It's kind of a white name. So a lot of times I get that too, you know, made fun of. A little bit of prejudice in that.
Bryant Denton: So Matt and I know each other - I've worked in the restaurant business for quite some time. That was where I was working before I started at VPR, and you know I've been part-time at VPR, always working in different restaurants too. And Matt and I have just - we've just been in each other's orbit.
Bryant Denton: How'd you get into cooking?
Matt Clark: I got into cooking, 'cause you know it was the one thing I know everybody can relate to. Everybody can relate to it. You've got to eat every day, right? You've got breakfast, lunch and dinner, right? So it doesn't matter what color you are. And just that alone it's like, people come together. What's a barbecue? You come together. What's a picnic? Y'all come together.
Bryant Denton: I thought Matt was a good place to start, just because he's a very positive person - for the most part. And it's hard to be positive for some people of color, because they've just had bad things happen to them in their lives, and Matt and I have both had, you know, troubles at these restaurants we've worked at together, we've had our own issues. And you know, we just kind of laugh it off, 'cause we know that those problems are so miniscule into some of the other problems that a person of color can experience.
Matt Clark: You know the racism in this country particularly is very harmful. And it spreads like a germ, like COVID. And people don't seem to understand that. And that's the bigger picture.
Bryant Denton: So there's so many different issues that are going on - but I asked him to narrow it down, if he could think of something that could be changed. That could help, you know, that would benefit people like us. So, let me pull that one up -
Matt Clark: It's opportunity, everybody has an opportunity. That's what America was built on. So why can't I stand next to the man across the street, and be able to have the same corner store, or the same little cooking spot, or the same little hardware store, or whatever your little trade might be? But I think everybody should be able to have that opportunity. Color shouldn't play a factor with that.
'Cause a lot of times, especially up here in Vermont, I feel like it's a hush-hush state. You know, there's a lot more racism than a lot of people see. You know, and, we don't need to be blinded anymore. Just the fact that, you know, there's a lot of hatred. But there is a time where we can come together and learn how to love. And I think that time, it should be right now. I really do.
[MUSIC: BRAVE LITTLE STATE THEME SONG]
Angela Evancie: From Vermont Public Radio, this is Brave Little State. I'm Angela Evancie. Here on the show we answer questions about Vermont that have been submitted, and voted on by you, our audience. Today, a question from Teo Spencer, of Panton:
Teo Spencer: How can the state, both its government and its people, support Vermonters of color?
Angela Evancie: A question about how a state that is 94% white can do better.
Jess Laporte: It always felt like a contradiction to be Black and to be a Vermonter. And that is because of the stories that we tell.
Z Muhammad: Google is your best friend. There are so many articles, and books to read.
Travon Groves: I'm done being uncomfortable. I'm making everyone else around me uncomfortable now.
Angela Evancie: We have support from the VPR Innovation Fund. Welcome.
So, about us ...
Angela Evancie: Bryant, VPR listeners might recognize your voice, because normally you're on the air as an announcer.
Bryant Denton: Yup, I'm Bryant Denton. I've worked at VPR for a little over three years now, doing work in a couple different departments, but I've never done any reporting work like this for VPR.
Angela Evancie: Right, this is your BLS debut. Very exciting! The timing for this worked out well, because we had this winning question, and it kind of lined up with some of the types of conversations that you had been wanting to record.
Bryant Denton: Yeah, no, things did line up for this story. A little bit about me: I'm originally from Plattsburgh, New York - just across the lake from Burlington. And upstate New York and Vermont are - they're very similar, especially in how there's not a lot of people of color around. I don't run into overt racism every day. But, you know, I can tell you that I've overheard someone calling me the n-word, or I've heard people just using the word out loud. And when I moved to Burlington, the first thing I was greeted by was a Confederate flag in the middle of my apartment. So, I've dealt with things like that. And even at VPR, I'm one of the few people of color on staff.
So thinking about all those things, and then looking at the fallout from George Floyd's death, I think Vermont has a lot of energy to engage with this conversation - but it's a new conversation for some people and it's difficult for a lot of people. And what I keep thinking is, it's one thing to go to a rally, but it's another thing to just sit down with someone, a person of color, and just really talk and get to listen to them, get to hear them, know their story. And that's the type of conversation that I think people should hear more of.
So that's why I started talking with Matt.
Bryant Denton: Tell me a change that you think about.
Matt Clark: You know, to be honest, that's real hard. We definitely can't change our past. And we shouldn't forget the past. But hopefully we can teach about the past. To make it better for all of us, for our future. And that's basically trying to teach our kids, you know, the difference between right and wrong.
Bryant Denton: So Matt Clark was the person that I interviewed. But Angela, you collected a lot more tape for this episode.
Angela Evancie: Yeah, I recorded a bunch of conversations with people. And we also published an open invitation for BIPOC Vermonters to just call in, or share voice memos, answering Teo's question. So without further ado ...
Travon Groves: So my name is Travon Groves. I live in Randolph, Vermont. I'm 31, and uh, I'm an activist.
Wenyu Xie: My name is Wenyu Xie. I live in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Z Muhammad: My name is Z Muhammad. I use they/them pronouns. I am 18 years old. I am a Black queer youth, and I've lived in Brattleboro, Vermont, my whole life.
Angela Evancie: There were many, many people kind enough to answer Teo's question about how to support Vermonters of color.
[MUSIC: "COULIS COULIS" BY BLUE DOT SESSIONS]
Nial Rele: My name is Nial Rele. I'm an educator at a college, and I moved to Vergennes about three years ago.
Matthew Lefluer: My name is Matthew Lefluer. I live in Alburgh, Vermont with family.
Reuben Jackson: Hello, my name's Reuben Jackson. I live in Washington, D.C., I lived in Vermont for eight years, and I'm a former employee of Vermont Public Radio.
Ashley Laporte: I'm Ashley Laporte. I live in Burlington, Vermont, in the South End.
Jess Laporte: Hi, I'm Jess Laporte, and I grew up in Stowe with Ashley.
Angela Evancie: Which of you is older?
Ashley Laporte: Me, Ashley.
Jess Laporte: That's the right way to ask the question!
Bryant Denton: The thing about this episode is, that we're not going to get to know any one person super well. Because there really are so many voices.
Ash Diggs: My name is Ash Diggs.
Mayumi Cornell: My name is Mayumi Cornell.
Reier Erickson: Reier Erickson.
Yvonne Brunot: Yvonne Brunot.
John Hunt: John Hunt.
Bene Yodishembo: Hi, I'm Bene.
Angela Evancie: Native Vermonters, long-time residents, ex-pats, former ex-pats, parents, professionals, students - from all sorts of backgrounds:
Yvonne Brunot: My family is African American and Caribbean American.
Nial Rele: I grew up in big cities, in India and Nigeria.
Ashley Laporte: I'm answering this question as a biracial cis woman.
Wenyu Xie: I am a new immigrant from Asia.
Matthew Lefluer: Myself is, a person with a disability. I'm Black, African American person.
John Hunt: I am a citizen, an Abenaki citizen, and on both sides of my family, have Abenaki ancestry in Vermont. For me, being an indigenous Vermonter, a lot of us aren't necessarily seen as people of color. You know, like, I look like any other white person in Vermont.
Bryant Denton: So everyone answers this question a little differently, or a lot differently.
Jonathan: I'd like to think of supporting Black, Indigenous, people of color as a pretty complex issue, right, because the issue of supporting Black people is actually different than those faced by Native Americans and Indigenous folks, which is also different than the experience from other people of color that might be Asian or Latino.
Ashley Laporte: You know, we are not a monolith. So in order for us to understand and define the areas that we want to invest in, in this BIPOC community, building community first is a really important place to start.
Angela Evancie: That said, there were many common themes in what people told us. So we're breaking things down into seven parts. But first - part zero?
Angela Evancie: What is your reaction to the fact that this question was asked, and that so many Vermonters want to know the answer?
Travon Groves: I have to say, I'm definitely glad that people are trying to educate themselves, for sure. It's just, it's, being that it's 2020 now, there's a lot of people who are just like, I really don't care, you don't deserve to have an answer from me now, because it's been so long, like, there's so many different outlets. Like, George Floyd isn't the first person that's been killed.
Mayumi Cornell: I'm kind of a teacher, so I'm probably always going to do that, but there are times when it gets really tiring. And I don't want to deal with the questions. And I think we all as people of color feel that, you know? That we - we just don't want to bother sometimes, you know? And, like, we don't want to translate things for you.
Ash Diggs: It's frustrating, it's upsetting, it's a reminder that Vermont is, for all that I really do love this state, and it, living here just calls to mind the James Baldwin quote of, "America," I'm paraphrasing, but, "I love America dearly, so I reserve the right to critique it." I love it here. But man, it can be - really I want to pull my hair out sometimes.
Z Muhammad: I need white Vermonters to stop expecting to be educated from people of color all the time. We are the people who are being directly affected by your racism, and it's exhausting for us. And it is not people of color's job to constantly help you understand your identity. Because we're trying to live our own.
Xusana Davis: My reaction to this question is: Good question. And, wondering if the asker, askers are ready for the answer.
Angela Evancie: That last voice you heard belongs to Xusana Davis. Unlike the many people who talked to us on their own time for this story, Xusana gets paid for this kind of thing. It *is* her job. She's the racial equity director for the state of Vermont.
Xusana Davis: I think often times people are looking for things that feel easily attainable, or minimally inconvenient, but are people really prepared for what it's going to take to support people of color? Even if it means that the status quo and the privileges that they enjoy might not look the same?
And then, I suppose the short answer that I have to the question is: How can the state support Vermonters of color? Carefully. And explicitly.
One: Reality check
Bryant Denton: Part one: Reality check.
Yvonne Brunot: Um, the first thing at the top of my list is, I really wish white Vermonters would stop pretending there's no racism in Vermont.
Bene Yodishembo: We need to start saying that there is a problem, then working on steps to fix it, instead of patting ourselves on the back.
Jess Laporte: We are not immune, and the statistics tell us this, but it's not the story that white Vermonters tell white Vermonters. And particularly it's not the story that white liberal Vermonters tell white liberal Vermonters.
Nial Rele: We are a place that is utopian, that is beyond reproach. And I think a lot of people buy that.
Z Muhammad: Could be because they only think of racism as being extreme alt-right acts. But that is a completely false narrative that is taught.
Reuben Jackson: I am referring to systemic racism, not just the stereotypical good old person in a pickup truck with a big Confederate flag, but - the unwillingness to share power in any respect.
Bene Yodishembo: And micro-aggressions that no one is talking about.
Z Muhammad: I experience racism on a personal level every day, and a majority of white people can't even recognize that they're being racist. And this puts me in a position of feeling so isolated - because everyone around me believes the behavior is OK. Or doesn't understand and doesn't even recognize it as racism. I need white Vermonters to learn to unpack their implicit and explicit biases. I don't want to be followed in stores anymore. And I am sick of people touching my Afro.
Mayumi Cornell: Like, the racism here can be kind of insidious, 'cause it's not like, the in-your-face kind, you know, that you might get in somewhere else, like, even, say, in Boston. I mean, it can, some instances, can get like that -
Bene Yodishembo: When I drive, I still see Confederate flags flying in this state.
Jess Laporte: This idea that, "Oh yeah, there are some of those wackos, or some of those people out there that are overtly racist, but in general they don't exist." And that is not actually true about the landscape of this state. And one thing I need as somebody who is a part of the BIPOC community in Vermont, is for white liberals to actually confront and engage with the realities of overt white supremacy in this state.
Reuben Jackson: Look around you. Vermont has been white for so long, white is the norm. How does that impact people's individual views of people of color? How many people may have run to Vermont to get away from people of color?
Yvonne Brunot: The other thing I would like to ask our government and our people and white Vermonters in particular is to stop pretending that white is synonymous with normal. There are hundreds of cultures in this world, there are hundreds of cultures in our country, and certainly more cultures would be evident in our state if people felt like they could be themselves.
More from Brave Little State: Why Is Vermont So Overwhelmingly White?
Bene Yodishembo: So in short, the state of Vermont and its people can support Blacks and other people of color by admitting that we are not better with racial injustice, and ours is only hidden.
Reuben Jackson: So I think acknowledging that is a very, very, very important step. It's not enough to say, "Oh no, not here," or to misquote or half-quote the state constitution.
Ash Diggs: You know, unfortunately I think that's gonna be a big hurdle for a lot of folks.
Angela Evancie: A VPR-Vermont PBS poll released just this week found the following: The share of Vermonters who think their community is welcoming of diversity? 81%. Support Black Lives Matter? 66%.
But when asked if racism is a problem in Vermont, today? Only 24% of people say yes, it's a big problem. Everyone else? They think the problem is moderate, or small, or nonexistent. Which brings us to part two.
Bryant Denton: Part two: Listen.
Angela Evancie: How can the state, both the government and its people, support Vermonters of color?
Mayumi Cornell: Listen to us.
Angela Evancie: Three word answer. Simple as that.
Mayumi Cornell: Mmhm.
Reier Erickson: I think one thing that Vermonters can do to better support Black, Indigenous and people of color who live in Vermont would be just to believe the stories we tell you. I'm afraid of the police. Not because it's imaginary but because I have real, bad experiences with the police. And instead of asking me to justify my fear of police or justify why I don’t want police around my kids, it would be great if Vermonters could simply hear me say, "This is how I feel about police." And believe me.
Because every time I have to re-tell the story of a police officer being aggressive with me, it means I have to relive that trauma.
Z Muhammad: If white people were able to stop for a second, take in the moment, listen to what I have to say, learn about their racism and think about why what they did is racist, it would be revolutionary.
Jess Laporte: And not necessarily that being, you know, sitting down one-on-one and just drawing out all of the information you can from one Black person, but actually listening to Black voices, accepting Black leadership over you.
Nial Rele: To be a good leader means that you have to acknowledge that we are a evolving community. And to continue to do the best job that you can do means listening to new voices that perhaps you haven't listened to before.
And honest listening means not being defensive, but critically thinking about systems, because we're talking about systemic issues that need systemic solutions. We're not talking about people, we're not talking about the past. We're not even talking about the present. We're talking about a future that works for everyone.
Matthew Lefluer: For me, and everybody around the state of Vermont, it would be, no matter what color you are, you have a right to be there, and to make your voice heard. And it to be known that, "Hey, I have an issue that’s been ingrained, in Vermont, the issues in Vermont have been ingrained for decades, that haven't yet had our voices heard or met since forever, and we're just here to make sure that you keep your end of the word, part of the bargain that you're supposed to basically include *all*."
Three: Educate yourself, and others
Bryant Denton: Part three: Educate yourself, and others.
Xusana Davis: What I would say to folks is that their learning is continual. It cannot happen all at once, and it's not gonna happen in a condensed amount of time. So, when people attend a training, and they think, "Well I'm done, I went to that forum, I attended the training, I saw her speak, and I get it. I get it now. And I read White Fragility." OK great. But what you're saying is you read a book, written by a white person, for white people, about people who are not white.
And it's a great start, and I recommend Robin DiAngelo's White Fragility to all white people in Vermont, actually to all people, and it is not nearly the only or the best resource.
John Hunt: I think that the state has a long ways to go in terms of, you know, correct education in schools, and getting Abenaki people to help teach that education, and also learning more about the language, just the actual, the true history, and up to present time, recognizing that Abenaki people are still here.
Yvonne Brunot: We have a history too, and the Abenaki people have a history too, that's part of Vermont, and it gets glossed over time and time again, and people pretend that other people who are non-white and non-European don't have a history here. We do, and we want more notice of it.
Travon Groves: School teachers, big one. School teachers and the education, that's my biggest one right there. If anyone wants to help, that's where it starts at. Going to these board of education meetings, and talking to the board of education, like, they need to reform the school system, the way they taught us, like that Christopher Columbus discovered America, and they highlight slavery so hard, you have these Black people believing – like I grew up young, in the ghetto, but our teachers had us feeling like slavery is where my ancestors, like where my history began.
John Hunt: You know, in school we learned that the Abenaki were extinct, they didn't live here anymore. And we also learned that they were barely here, that it was just hunting grounds, and all these kind of old myths of what the Abenaki presence was in Vermont. So for me to say I was Abenaki, growing up, I was laughed at.
Xusana Davis: If you're in control of the media that someone else in your life is consuming, ask yourself, who are the protagonists in those media? When you do have characters of color in the media you consume, are they the typical sidekick trope? Do you listen to only very narrow types of music?
You know, watch films that are informative in nature. Movies that show the Black experience in a way that sensationalizes their pain, those aren't educational tools, right, that's trauma porn – and then watching films only about slavery or emancipation, right? Like you shouldn't limit your films to movies about violence or about slavery, that's not going to teach you about marginalized people.
Four: Socialize yourself
Bryant Denton: Part four: Socialize yourself.
Angela Evancie: That VPR-Vermont PBS poll we mentioned earlier? It also asked this: How often do you interact with others that do not share your racial identity? Less than half the respondents – 42% – said they do this frequently. Almost 30% said seldom or almost never.
Wenyu Xie: I moved to Vermont five years ago. And it takes me three years to find a few good friends here. I'm patient enough. It not, I won't be here today. Vermonters I know have big family locally, and they have few time for a new friend. If it takes 10 hours to get to know a local Vermonter, it might take 60 or more hours to get to know an immigrant like me.
Most people tend to go with the easy trail by choosing friends that are similar to them. In Vermont, that means white. But not the different one, in Vermont. Not white. To answer Teo's question, I think Vermonters need to be willing to spend time knowing a person that is different from them.
Jonathan: It's easy to call out how racism is a horrible thing, it's a different thing to say, "Hey, there's a new Black dude in town or a new Black woman or a new Black family, or you know, Black child at my kid's school, maybe I'll take them mountain biking, maybe I'll take them kayaking, skiing."
Just being open and sharing some of the passions that you might have as a Vermonter with other people who you might not initially think they would be interested.
Ash Diggs: That's hard right, because you definitely don’t want – people of color, we don't want you to just like come up to us and say like, "Hey, be my Black friend."
That's a hard question, and it's a really important question, 'cause I feel like a lot of people are thinking, "How can I diversify my circle?" And I think that, a big part of that is, local arts, which obviously is so decimated right now with the global pandemic.
But if you put yourself out there, you'll build connections. If you openly and honestly and intentionally change some of the spheres in which you operate in, whether that's maybe you go to one show, or you log on to one Zoom conference or something or the other, and you ask one question during a Q and A portion, maybe the moderator of that Zoom, you run into them at City Market, or you run into them at something else, you say, "Hi," next thing you know, you've got an acquaintance.
Xusana Davis: And don't just do so for your own edification, and so that you can consume stories about their trauma. But make a real connection in a way that shows you care about them as people, not just because you want them to relive their history of marginalization so you can gawk at it and feel better about yourself.
Yvonne Brunot: Also, when you meet people of color, could you please stop assuming that they're not from here?
Five: When the time is right, talk
Bryant Denton: Part five: When the time is right, talk.
Wenyu Xie: I think it's normal that people avoid this topic, as it is sensitive and they don't want to get into trouble. People generally try to avoid hearty conversations, and prefer to play a safe card. They ask, "How are you?" But they really only want to hear, "I'm fine."
If most Vermonters don't feel comfortable to talk about race, through time, people of color will become an outsider.
Jonathan: If someone's making some very obvious racist statements, even if there's no Black people around, I think white people can definitely call out their friends and maybe help reset the frame for some of the things that they might be saying.
Travon Groves: And especially if you're white, you need to be having those uncomfortable conversations with your family and friends, to see where everyone is, and you need to be calling it out. Like, because us alone, our groups alone, can't reach every single person. It's impossible. We're not gonna get to reach every person.
So that's where we need these white allies that want to join in and help. That's where we need them to help the most – go talk to your family and your friends and have those super uncomfortable conversations that you know they don't want to have or hear. And if they don't like it, oh well – those obviously are not your friends.
Ashley Laporte: I mean, I just listened tonight to the Brave Little State asking what's the meaning behind the Confederate flag, and why do Vermonters fly the Confederate flag. If we could, it seems like a small thing, but even have five of the neighbors who live in that town turn to their neighbor and say, like, “That’s not OK, I am not OK with this,” or, a family member of theirs who doesn't even live in that town say, "Listen, I don’t know what you think that that symbolizes, but to me, and to people of color in this state, that symbolizes hate" — that's the kind of allyship that we need, and that we're looking for.
More from Brave Little State: Why Do Some Vermonters Display The Confederate Flag?
Mayumi Cornell: I mean the best thing that you can do is, if you know that racism and bullying is happening in your school, get involved if you're a parent. If you know it's happening in the workplace, get involved. It doesn't have to be as painful as we think it has to be. It can simply be a conversation, and it's gonna be an ongoing conversation.
Ash Diggs: You know, it doesn't have to be awkward. It's just – you know I'm not expecting my white friends, the white people that I meet day to day, I'm not expecting folks to be perfect because we're all learning a lot of different things. And so just being really intentional with everything that you're doing, from the money you're spending to the way you're talking to people.
Bryant Denton: Part six: Spend money intentionally.
Ash Diggs: Be intentional about supporting the businesses of Black and minority-owned businesses in Vermont. I think that's something that just as people we can do.
Jess Laporte: I'm not a fan of diversity numbers, but I think it's very important for people in positions of power to ask themselves how they are in the way of the people of color within their institution, and ask the hard question of, do you truly offer the same opportunity to people of color that you offer to your white colleagues?
Jonathan: The ability to provide opportunities for people — not that are undeserved, right? But just allowing me to compete on a level playing field with everyone else, right? Allowing me to develop myself along with everyone else.
Z Muhammad: I want and need Vermont to seek out, include and hire people of color as employees. In the Legislature, definitely in schools, town decision-making processes or boards, and more community organizations and businesses.
And to not have the people of color in those positions just to fill a diversity quota. I need these places to actively support these people of color in the positions and continuously work on analyzing the environment and its impact on people of color.
Seven: Do you
Bryant Denton: Part seven: Do you.
Mayumi Cornell: Like, look at your life, and see where you see something lacking for people of color. And maybe that's how you help the community. Because we can't do and be everything to everybody. But in our life, like, there are places where we can make a change.
Xusana Davis: So for example, if this is a person who is an attorney, maybe start by doing more pro bono litigation. Maybe focus your practice on civil rights cases. Or, if you are a mom with two kids, maybe start by going to your school superintendent or the board or what have you, or the PTA, and saying, "Hey, what's the racial composition of our faculty? What’s the racial composition of our administrative staff?"
If you are a farmer, maybe you have land that you are looking to lease. Maybe look for a farmer of color who is looking for a land lease, and partner with them. If you are in the arts, maybe you have some sort of say over what creative acts or artists your organization hosts or features.
Maybe you're retired, and you've worked in an office your whole life. Well, maybe volunteer with your local resettlement group, and see if you can tutor or mentor people who are studying for the citizenship exam, or something like that.
Mayumi Cornell: I think we think it has to be very specialized, and we have to be out in the streets and raising your fists. You can affect small changes in small ways too. And those are helpful. And I mean, I think the symbolic gestures are great, but substantive things are what people are really looking for.
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Ashley Laporte: I am deeply fearful that what could happen in this moment is that we basically all had a collective moment of reckoning, it was then continuously amplified on the backs of Black and Brown people, and now that we've gained a little bit of momentum, I'm deeply fearful that Black and Brown people are not going to sit at the center of the solutions that we create, and that this momentum that we've built literally off of Black bodies and Black input is going to be used for other issues and for other purposes.
Bene Yodishembo: So yes, we've had Black Lives Matter protests, anti-police brutality protests, we've painted a BLM mural in Burlington, we've raised Black Lives Matter flags at our schools, yes. But what needs to change is the system. And so until that is truly and fully acknowledged, and we stop thinking that Vermont is better just because X,Y and Z, that is when real change will happen.
Various voices: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Earlier in this piece you heard Bryant say that he's one of just a few people of color that work at VPR. To be exact, there are four people of color on staff, including part-time employees. That's out of a staff of 74 people.
As for VPR's news team, all our full-time staffers are white. And there are no people of color in station leadership. So what is VPR gonna do to better support Vermonters of color? Angela put the question to VPR's President and CEO Scott Finn, and got this response:
VPR's vision is to explore the whole Vermont story, together. I think employees here take that word "whole" to heart, and work hard to show the full diversity of our community through our stories and programs.
One place where we've fallen short is in the hiring and retention of Black, Indigenous and People of Color employees. To change this, I and the rest of VPR's Leadership Team have committed to several concrete steps over the next year, including:
We will work with an independent expert to audit and create an improvement plan for our recruitment and hiring practices, as well as internal culture. Immediately boost diverse voices on air and online through freelance contracts, as we work to diversify our full- and part-time staff. An audit of our news and music content to determine how well it reflects our full community, and where we can improve. Expanding VPR's Diverse Voices Fund to make sure these efforts are adequately resourced.
More responses to Teo's question
Here are the full voicemails from the responses you heard above, plus emails we received.
I am a proud Colombian woman, mother to three mixed children who grew up in Vermont. I learned fast how racist my new home state would be. My son was outside and introducing himself to some kids. He came back in as we were moving things into our new home and asked, "what color am I?" I was busy and said, "cafe' con leche ". Meaning coffee with milk, or lightly tan. That was not good enough. He was told that is not a color, and if he was black they could not play with him. I was shocked and went to meet the neighbors.
The racism I've found in Vermont is one mostly of ignorance/lack of exposure to people of other races and cultures. I would ask Vermonters to open their hearts and minds to things changing. Ask themselves if they would want their children on the receiving end of some of their questions, their crude name calling. I'm not related to Juan Valdez, and I don’t appreciate all the jokes about cocaine. My son who had dreads is an American born citizen. So when you call him a "towel head", and "sand ni***", I weep for the pain your ignorance causes my child. I ask my fellow Vermonters to travel and read as I have. To expose themselves to a world of many races and realize that we are all the same. Stop believing that people of color are here to take something away from you. Share your stories and open your eyes to someone else's experience. I can teach you about my world if you open your heart to listen.
The first thing that popped in my mind when this question came up was that the state and its people really need to redefine what a "Vermonter" is. As I'm writing this, I don't consider myself a Vermonter. I've been here almost 4 years, lived in various parts of the state (Brattleboro, Woodstock, and Burlington) and plan to stay longer. But the definition you hear over and over is that you're only a Vermonter if you've been here at least 3 generations.
It's really interesting because VT is known as a really progressive state to the rest of the US, Bernie country! But there is a serious undertone of state-ism (if I can call it that?) that can feel resistant to change and unwelcoming. Everyone's welcome in VT...if you're from VT, and your family's been in VT for a long time, and you like things just the way they are. "You don't like things here? Then leave, flatlander!"
There aren't a lot of BIPOC people in VT as it is. How big is the pool when you then tack on the requirement that your families need to have stayed multiple generations? It was made in jest, but the SNL skit hit pretty close to home when I watched it. They only referenced how white VT was, but I can't help but draw parallels with the closed-mindedness that is associated with the definition of a "Vermonter". I think if you want more people to feel welcome here, change the narrative.
I know there are a lot of people who think that definition is stupid and outdated, and are working hard to change that definition. The ironic thing is, only "Vermonters" have the clout in this state to redefine the term. People, including people of color, who move here don't get to claim their Vermonter-ness, until Vermonters decide anyone can be a Vermonter. Ain't that some [sh--]?
I should be clear, I have thoroughly enjoyed being in Vermont and have not really felt a ton of discrimination personally. These are things I hear from others, or see on the VT subreddits. I love a lot of things about this state, and you should be proud of where you come from (go Maryland!). I also understand putting value in tradition. But just because you love your state, doesn't mean you can't be critical of it and hope for it to be better.
More diversity in advertising, so that we are seeing more diversity every day. The council on the humanities is doing a great job of having programs of people of color in the arts. keep it up
Curtiss Reed, Jr.
I would greatly appreciate Vermont broadcast, print, and electronic media highlighting the views of subject matter experts of color who are not in the fields of criminal justice or racial/social justice. When the media relegates Vermonters of color to these two fields of endeavour, as important as these fields are, the media misses the opportunity to show how Vermonters of color contribute to the broader sense of community. It is important for all Vermonters to know that Vermonters of color are involved in agriculture, food processing, engineering, academia, medicine/healthcare, education, tourism, etc. We mst reinforce the notion for children of color in Vermont that there is a place for them as adults of color in Vermont as well as for white children to know the same of their classmates of color.
In partnership, Curtiss Curtiss Reed, Jr., L.H.D. Executive Director Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity
Hi, my name is Maddy Ziminsky and I am a 16 year old high school student living in Stowe, Vermont. I am black (among many other racial backgrounds), and so far I've faced verbal harassment on many occasions, and physical assault on a few others due to racism. The first thing people in this society choose to judge me on is the color of my skin that they see against the bold background of white supremacy. Making change in how society views and treats people of color is definitely going to be quite the marathon to bring along change, but a simple way to start would be by providing more platforms for people like me, people of color in this state whose experiences remain untold, to be able to share what we've experienced and how we feel. Too many people in Vermont don't believe us when we say that racism IS here in Vermont, and there appears to be some false sense of security among people that gives them the idea that Vermont is some kind of "safe haven". But racism IS in Vermont, and people like me deserve to be given platforms to use our voices to bring about change. Examples of platforms would be allowing more kids and teens (whose voices are often overlooked, not only because of our skin, but due to our age as well) to be guest speakers at events. Since we will be the voices of the future, we deserve to have support during our youth to be heard and listened to, and to guide us towards success in the future.
This is a start, but there's only one direction we have to go from here, since society has broken us down for far to long, and that direction is up.
Thank you for your time, and I hope this helps to answer your question!
Stay safe, -Maddy Z
Thanks so much for listening to the show. Bryant Denton produced this episode with creator Angela Evancie.
Thanks to Teo Spencer for the great question, and to *everyone* who helped answer it: Yvonne Brunot, Matt Clark, Mayumi Cornell, Xusana Davis, Ash Diggs, Reier Erickson, Travon Groves, John Hunt, Reuben Jackson, Ashley Laporte, Jess Laporte, Matthew Lefluer, Z Muhammad, Nial Rele, Wenyu Xie, Bene Yodishembo and Jonathan in Central Vermont – who didn't want to share his last name because he has "at least one neighbor that's running a Confederate flag."
This episode was edited by Lynne McCrea. Our digital producer is Elodie Reed and we have engineering support from Chris Albertine. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions.
Special thanks to Mark Hughes, Shirly Hook, Don Stevens, AALV, Gloria Estela González Zenteno, Misoo Filan, Shanta Lee Gander, Jessee Lawyer, Hom Pradhan, Ramona Sheppard and Jonathan Butler.
Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio. We have support from the VPR Innovation Fund, and VPR members. If you like our show, make a gift at bravelittlestate.org/donate.