Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Systemic Racism in Burlington, Vermont

"The data [from nearly 26,000 traffic stops made over a two-year period by police in Burlington, South Burlington, Winooski and the University of Vermont] showed “statistically significant disparities” between black and white male drivers across all four departments. Black drivers in Burlington and South Burlington were twice as likely as whites to be pulled over. In South Burlington, the rate at which black drivers were searched after a traffic stop was five times higher than for white drivers."

At last Monday's City Council meeting (BURLINGTON FREE PRESS):
On the hot seat was Burlington schools Superintendent Jeanne Collins, who endured sharp questioning from Ward 3 City Councilor Vince Brennan on her commitment to equity.
Lindsay Reid, a former Burlington school district employee, said she was not satisfied with Collins’ responses: “She persists in protecting the delicate ego of white teachers at the expense of students and families that face discrimination.

Reid, who is originally from Burkino Faso, agreed with Brennan that it is time for new leadership in the school district. So did Jeanine Bunzigiye, an immigrant from the Congo and a former home-school liaison for Burlington schools. Many immigrant and refugee families are weary of talking about problems and want better academic outcomes for their children, she said. “I think they really want to see some action,” Bunzigiye said.

During public comment, about 10 speakers said the school district has a long way to go to eradicate racism. Reuben Jackson, a teacher at Burlington High School, said the district has made some notable efforts to address its historical homogeneity, but needs to go much further before students and staff reach real comfort levels."

There is a student walk out at Burlington High School tomorrow. They want us to show up in solidarity for the walk out at 8:00 A.M., so probably show up at 7:00. The students specifically asked for Occupy Burlington to come out. Let's not disappoint.

We need to unite the 99% to make the social change that will benefit all of us. The Burlington School Board holds the power to the leardership of the Burlington School District.

An open letter from Rabbi Joshua Chasen, Ohavi Zedek Synagogue. (Please share it with others via e-mail as well. ~ thanks. )

Racism is a disease of the soul, intractable, insidious. Most of us white people, myself included, do not understand the depth of this problem. We have a problem of racism in our schools because we have a problem of racism in our city, our country and world.

Twenty years ago, there were few people of color in Burlington and Vermont, and it was difficult to get a hearing for complaints about racism. Now, in part because we have welcomed to town many refugees of color, there is a greater willingness to hear about the effects of persistent racism. But, let's face it: there is still a hope in the hearts of many in our community that Vermont will stay as white as the driven snow. We won't. We're not.

Our schools are where these issues tend to surface first. Our teachers are challenged to work with children of a variety of backgrounds, styles of learning, levels of previous education. Let us recognize the challenge that they face and stand with them in their efforts to educate all of our children. The Diversity and Equity Task Force Report contains many helpful suggestions about how to move forward. It is not an attack on the competence of our teachers.
It does recognize the persistence of racism throughout our society, including our schools. Still today, too many teachers tell children of color to ignore racist insults, suggesting that they were not intended to be racist. Still today, children of color are fearful in our schools. Students who are classified as ELL (English Language Learners) hear the debate about the Diversity and Equity Task Force Report and feel that they are being called "stupid." Surely that is no one's intent, but it is what is happening.

We have come to a moment of truth in our neck of the woods, a time when we must acknowledge that we no longer are mostly European in origin; a time when we must celebrate our multi-racial, multi-cultural society. The change is not easy. Nothing is gained by calling each other "racists" or "anti-teacher." We always must seek strong leadership in such times, but nothing is gained by scapegoating each other.
Let's keep our eyes on the prize, the well being of all of our children. When a child of color is humiliated by a racist comment, the well being of every child in our city is diminished, as is the well being of every one of us of all ages.

This message must come from every pulpit in town. Each one of us is created in the image of God. Instead of focusing on the low level of language competence of children who have landed here after harrowing journeys out of violence and civil wars, let us focus on our own cultural competence, our capacity to be comfortable enough with other cultures so that we can create real social equity.

Not an easy task, by any means. Let us be grateful to the men and women who choose to take on this challenge in our schools. And let us hold every last one of us accountable to the fulfillment of the historic promise of our country to be a place where every child is given an equal chance to fulfill his or her dreams.

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