Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deborah Bucknam, a St. Johnsbury-based attorney and former Republican candidate for state attorney general.
Recently, the Vermont General Assembly passed a resolution honoring Black Lives Matter. The resolution noted that there is “systemic racism” in Vermont. The resolution is correct. There is systemic racism in Vermont and across the country. It comes in many forms.
First, there is the scandal of public education, which does not educate African-American children. The statistics are miserable: terrible graduation rates, abysmal academic achievement, endemic violence in schools, the soft bigotry of low expectations. Minorities have always started in inner cities, but in the past, the American education system has been a way out for the children of minorities. Now the educational system for African-Americans is something to get away from.
Justice Felix Frankfurter, a brilliant U.S. Supreme Court jurist, came to the United States from Germany as a young child, and his family settled in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. When he started first grade, he could not speak a word of English. He told the story of his first grade teacher, who warned his classmates that she would beat them if she heard them speaking to Frankfurter in German. Frankfurter ended the story by saying, “I adored her.” While corporal punishment has rightly been banned, the teacher’s attitude towards poor immigrant children was more broad-minded than teachers and administrators today who tolerate bad behavior and low academic achievement, leaving African-American children who want to learn and achieve in the dust.
This educational scandal has been compounded by white leaders, who instead of reforming schools to adequately prepare African-American children for higher education, careers and civic life, have lowered standards so that these poorly educated children can be accepted to higher education and careers — often resulting in more failure for these children in the future.
Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said in a speech at a Vermont Bar Association meeting last year that African-Americans scored far lower on the police exam than whites. His solution? Change the exam to reflect the differences in “culture.” The ancestors of African-Americans have been in this country for 400 years — they have been acculturated to American society far longer than most other ethnic groups. So, the unspoken message from the police chief: African-Americans cannot master the academic rigor required of the police examination. It is an insult to a community whose ancestors fought so courageously for the right to an education in the face of often deadly opposition.
African-Americans cannot master the police exam only because white society has failed to adequately educate their children, not because they are less capable than whites. Instead of educating African-American children, white elites compound the racism by instituting easier and easier academic standards as these children move from childhood into adulthood, leaving them without adequate academic foundation, thereby vulnerable to the kind of discrimination — albeit more sophisticated and nuanced, but discrimination nonetheless — in academia and the workplace.
Black Lives Matter also touts “bias free” policing as a way to stop systemic racism. This is virtue signaling that hurts African-American communities while at the same time feeding the self-righteousness of white society. Bias free policing is the ideal, but as a practical matter, the way it has been implemented means fewer police interventions and more police caution in the face of lawbreaking. Millions of law abiding African-Americans live in areas where violent crime is an everyday issue, and their lives and the lives of their children are put at higher risk when police protection is reduced. Whites who live in the suburbs do not face these crime problems, so they can feel smug about their “tolerance” by supporting “bias free” policing while the black community pays the price.
Systemic racism takes the form of stereotyping African-Americans. African-Americans are seen by many white elites as a monolithic group with stereotypical ideas and feelings — namely as victims to be saved by a benevolent government. White media, for example, virtually never positively profiles — or even interviews — African-American leaders who dare to stray from the white stereotype. Intellectual powerhouses such as Thomas Sowell, Justice Clarence Thomas, Condoleezza Rice, Jason Riley and outstanding political leaders such as Sen. Tim Scott, Rep. Mia Love and Dr. Ben Carson are ignored, dismissed, and even denigrated by the white mainstream media. Sen. Scott, who helped fashion the Republican tax cut of 2017, was called a “manipulated prop” when he stood next to President Donald Trump after the tax bill was passed.
Justice Thomas, in a recent interview, told of a young girl who said to him: “I am tired of playing the role of an African-American. I just want to go to school.” This American girl was begging to join the human race, not to be a cardboard cutout to fit white society’s stereotype. This stereotype was demonstrated in stark relief last week when Vermont Public Radio interviewed Rep. Kiah Morris about opposition to Black Lives Matter. The interviewer was patronizing, treating Rep. Morris as if she were a schoolgirl whose tender sensibilities about her victimhood had to be carefully nurtured. Rep. Morris was allowed, and even encouraged, to smear a fellow legislator without so much as a whisper of a challenge. Rep. Morris said that the legislator who opposed the BLM resolution was “ignorant” of her life experiences, but she was able, without challenge, to call him a vile name without having any knowledge of his life experiences. Why? Vermont Public Radio, like most white media outlets, push black stereotypes of victimhood. The result: a widening divide between black and white Americans.
Which comes to the last form of systemic racism: re-segregation. African-Americans are encouraged by white elites to view anyone who may say the wrong thing, no matter how innocently, as a white supremacist or racist. And the “wrong thing” has expanded to areas unheard of in just the recent past. That will, as surely as physical segregation, set up barriers between African-Americans and whites. If whites are afraid of saying anything to African-Americans which will trigger vile name calling, whites will simply stay away. It is easier than to risk engagement.
African-Americans have been through far more pain and struggle than most white Americans. They have met those painful — and sometimes horrible — challenges with courage, perseverance and grace. Now they are facing a new pernicious form of racism: one that seeks to denigrate their intellect, put their children at greater risk of violence, stereotype them and segregate them from main stream America — all to make white America feel virtuous. White America should be ashamed.