Vermont is one of the nation’s whitest states, and members of the legislature are working to advance equity in government and across the state. That was the subject of the latest discussion in the Vermont Chamber of Commerce’s virtual policy series.
Vermont has long been known for, and often struggled with, being one of the whitest states in the nation. According to U.S. Census data 94 percent of the state’s population is white, 1.4 percent Black, 1.9 percent Asian and 2 percent Hispanic or Latino. Vermont Chamber President Betsy Bishop says advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion has become a priority for many organizations including the Vermont Chamber.
“Our board has begun working on DEI (diversity, equity, inclusion) issues through a task force that initially started with a mission to diversify our board," Bishop said. "The mission quickly brought in to include diversifying our membership and partnering with other organizations to help BIPOC businesses thrive in Vermont. We are developing programming to support and promote BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, Persons of Color) businesses and other business in efforts to address DEI initiatives in their own companies. We’ll be gathering input through an outreach process to ensure that we meet the needs of these businesses.”
Two state representatives of color discussed efforts to advance racial equity. House Representative Hal Colston, a Democrat, is promoting the formation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“I see this as a foundational step for Vermonters to begin embracing the idea of dismantling systemic racism or reparations for those who have been harmed by systemic racism," Colston said. "And having this kind of process where all Vermonters can come together and share their harm by our systems of oppression I think is a beginning process for us to heal as a state of those broken relationships and to understand how do we repair those broken relationships. So I see this approach as foundational for leading us down the path of becoming an anti-racist government.”
State Senator Kesha Ram, also a Democrat from Chittenden County, is a co-chair of the legislature’s Social Equity Caucus. She says some uncomfortable questions must be asked to make progress.
“What can white business owners and leaders do to get out of the way of BIPOC business owners and those who want to find a place here?" Ram said. "And I know that might make some uncomfortable but also resonate with some of you as saying how can government get out of my way? I’m not asking for anything? I'm asking to just have a piece of the pie and be able to create jobs and sort of set down my roots here. That’s what a lot of people of color are asking for as well. And as folks may know 90 percent of the population growth in the state over the last decade or so has been the growth of BIPOC Vermonters. But the issue is often that they don’t stay. And they follow in a long historic line of people of color who felt pushed away from the state of Vermont.”