The bigger picture: Racism is the source of poverty, instability and, often, homelessness

BRATTLEBORO — Gee. Who would have thought?

A better headline for Joyce Marcel's thorough and revealing story on homelessness might have pointed to the actual conclusion of the studies of researchers Colburn and Aldern: Homelessness is one of the consequences of institutional racism. "Systemic discrimination across multiple systems, education, housing, criminal justice, etc. produce these disproportionate outcomes [...]," as Colburn said in the state treasurer's forum.

In all aspects of our society, people of color fare worse than whites. Discrimination in hiring and promotions, poorer quality public schools, lower rates of acceptance to colleges, and generally the failure to be treated justly almost everywhere - all this channels a life toward poverty, instability and, often, homelessness.

Who owns all the unaffordable housing? As a white male, it has been a lifelong process learning to even recognize the institutional racism that I swim in. It's everywhere around me but I don't feel it, and thus I don't see it since I am white.

The irony of the headline is that the editor, too, is white and failed to grasp the key point of the forum being reported.

Unrelated to this Commons story but related to the subject, I shall mention the recent racist assertion, by an individual, that our police chief was hired only because of her skin color and not because of the very strong credentials and skills that more than qualified her for the job.

The town did respond with an official, almost pro forma, statement condemning such accusations and reaffirming support for the chief but, as it was signed only by the Selectboard chair and the town manager, it seemed like a very tepid reaction.

The Selectboard chair and town manager sign off on everything. It's their duty. In this matter, it would have been a lot more reassuring if the statement were signed by every Selectboard member and perhaps every department head as well.

If one would like a clearer example of institutional racism at work, think back to the testimony of Curtiss Reed Jr. at a Selectboard candidate forum several years ago, pointing out that of our 139 town employees not one was a person of color.

Think back on the town's history. How many people of color have ever been on the town payroll? How many non-white faces appear at Representative Town Meeting? How many non-white faces are employed in our schools?

Look at the history. The small handful of students at Brattleboro Union High School who, not so many years back, formed a vicious, racist "club." Though few in number, I don't think they felt alone.

What can explain a state population that is 98% white? A state that fostered a highly active segment of the eugenics movement.

What do we mean by "Vermont Strong"? Is it only that we have become exceptionally adept at cleaning up flood damage?

This Voices Letters from readers was submitted to The Commons.