Another View: No joke: Bold steps needed to counter systemic racism

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Days after Saturday Night Live made a mockery of Vermont's "whiteness" in a comedy sketch about racism, the membership of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns has approved two resolutions that tackle head-on the systemic racism that seems to be afflicting the state.

On Wednesday, the VLCT membership departed from its usual annual meeting business to unanimously approve two resolutions: one condemning recent racist events both in Vermont and nationally, and a second calling on lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment eliminating residual language still in Article 1 of the Vermont Constitution that allows a person to be held as a servant, slave or apprentice if that person is below the age of 21.

The first resolution reads: "Resolved: that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns condemns in the strongest possible terms, discrimination in all its manifestations, that is publicly or privately directed against public officials in particular, or generally toward any and all people."

That mention of discrimination also is intended to extend to women in response to the #metoo movement.

The second VLCT resolution reads: "Resolved: that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns calls on the legislature to amend Chapter 1, Article 1 of the Vermont Constitution to read 'That all persons are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent and unalienable rights, amongst which are the enjoying and defending (of) life and liberty, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. Slavery and involuntary servitude in all forms are prohibited.'"

It was brought to the attention of the membership by Plainfield Select Board member Sasha Thayer.

Both resolutions passed unanimously and with little discussion.

In a statement issued Thursday, Public Policy Director Karen Horn wrote, "Clearly, these are overarching issues on which Vermont's local officials believe it is imperative to take a stand. Calling them out at the same time VLCT adopts it(s) Municipal Policy is entirely appropriate."

Last weekend, SNL lampooned the Green Mountain State as a "Caucasian paradise."

The state is the second-whitest state in the nation after Maine, with a population that is 94 percent white, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

While the skit was intended to poke fun, it fell on the heels of the resignation of black lawmaker Kiah Morris, of Bennington, who stepped down, in part, because of escalating harassment and threats against her and her family.

In recent months, there have been racist flyers found tucked in books in public libraries and on college campuses. White supremacist recruiting materials have been found in communities across Vermont. There have been repeated concerns about the Confederate flag being flown or displayed at public events. And there have been threats against public officials willing to condone school districts who fly the Black Lives Matter flag. Around the state, the NAACP-Vermont reports, there have been incidents of assaults, threats and violent attacks against people of color on a regular basis.

That's why the SNL skit stung, and the VLCT resolutions are so timely and important.

In the sketch spoofing a neo-Confederate community meeting, SNL took on the state's lack of diversity. In it, Jim, played by cast member Beck Bennett, presents the need for creating an "agrarian community where everyone lives in harmony because every single person is white."

"Yeah, I know that place, that sounds like Vermont," actor Adam Driver, playing a meeting attendee, says.

"The SNL cast was in great form on Saturday night," Michael Schirling, secretary of Vermont's Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said in a statement this week.

In his statement responding to the skit, Schirling touched on the points of humor in the sketch referencing classic Vermont points of interest — like corn mazes, country stores and covered bridges — but said the state is more than what it is known for.

"We invite SNL viewers to Vermont to see all that we have to offer, including our increasingly diverse communities and wide array of tourist destinations including the African American Heritage Trail," he wrote. "Now is a perfect time to visit or to consider a move here. The leaves are changing and so is Vermont."

We commend the towns and cities that unanimously rose up against racism and discrimination this week. Their charge is a first step toward knocking back racism and making bold strides toward change — not just at a micro level but systemically. We urge the Legislature to take up the constitutional amendment and remove the inappropriate, outdated language.

It is steps like these that will show we are acknowledging the deep-seated issues lurking in Vermont, and coming up with solutions toward meaningful progress.

— Rutland Herald

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