Vermont House Bill H.273 calls for $10,000,000 to assist BIPOC people to purchase land in every Vermont town. As justification, Vermont’s farming community, and generations of dirt-poor white farmers, are denigrated in a cascade of blatant falsehoods that allege their complicity in Indian genocide and sharecropping. The bill could have been about helping poor black people; instead it is about condemning poor white ones.
Prior to Vermont self-declaring its occupation of the land in 1777, it is estimated that at least 10,000 Indigenous persons were living in the region, specifically upwards of 4,000 Abenaki living in the Champlain Valley.
Thus begins an endless tirade against Vermont’s indigenous white dairymen, invoking the Dawes Act, Jim Crow laws, “federal land policies,” “redlining,” the “Servicemen’s Readjustment Act,” and even sharecropping:
Sharecropping was the federal government prohibiting Black farmers from owning property and as a result they were forced to rent land from White landlords. Many Black farmers at this time experienced unfair terms and agreements.
The 1910 U.S. Census (Table 1, p. 577) identified 34 Indians residing in Vermont in 1890; 5 in 1900; 26 in 1910, and fewer than 1,000 “Negroes” in 1890 and 1900; 1,621 by 1910. The 1960 Census (Table 15) reflects 572 black residents in 1920, 568 in 1930, 584 in 1940, 443 in 1950, and 519 in 1960. Hundreds of thousands of white Vermonters have endured a crushing poverty that “native” Vermonters well know, but which those who condemn them recast as “white privilege.” H.273 claims that BIPOC people with no connection to Vermont, or farming, or the land, or Abenakis, or resources, must be given land because of a historic oppression that never occurred.
For 100 years, Vermont’s dairy farms and communities have steadily declined. White children starved, and were crippled or killed in farm accidents on white farms. They rarely had healthcare, usually lacked decent clothing or shoes, often lacked teeth. There was no Abenaki genocide — and no sharecropping oppression — on Vermont’s dairy farms.
H.273 re-writes this suffering, as oppression:
During and since these early days of colonization and slavery, due to local, State, and federal policies that were intentionally developed to economically, socially, and racially discriminate against members of the BIPOC community, multi-generational poverty has created a disturbing disproportionate wealth gap for land and home ownership in what we now know as Vermont and the United States…. The foundation of our current economic system was built on land that was taken from Abenaki and other Indigenous persons, and the structures of our economic system were constructed with the labor of enslaved persons. The legacy of settler colonialism and chattel slavery has been systemic racism and discrimination embedded into many aspects of our modern way of life on this land.
There were 32,709 farms per the 1910 Census (Supplement Table 1): 28,968 “Native white;” 3,721 “Foreign-born white;” and 20 “Negro and other nonwhite.” Today barely 600 of those 32,709 dairy farms remain. Following the Spanish Flu, “…many rural Vermonters… left the grinding poverty of hill farms and moved to urban areas of southern New England and elsewhere to work in war production factories.” Then the Great Depression descended, followed by continuing decline…. ever since! The dairy industry is worse than ever — COVID hurt dairy farmers, and milk prices remain abysmal.
H.273 legislate an alternate reality:
The laws and policies of our State and nation severed Indigenous persons from their land while denying them, Black persons, and other Persons of Color from having the opportunity to access and to own land. These actions of the State led to systemic racism that has impacted all Vermonters who have historically suffered from discrimination and who have not had equal access to public or private economic benefits due to race, ethnicity, sex, geography, language preference, immigrant or citizen status, sexual orientation, gender identity, socioeconomic status, or disability status…. In order to offer repair for the systemic discrimination faced by many persons throughout the State over the past four centuries, the State of Vermont must engage in a just transition to an economic system that systemically undoes racism instead of reinforcing it.
H.273, like its upside-down perversion of Vermont history, does the opposite: it “transitions to an economic system that systemically reinforces racism that the Vermont and federal Constitutions have sought to undo.” It justifies racism using racist labels, manipulates statistics and re-writes history, while ignoring constitutional law that prohibits such race-only legislation, in an open attack on an impoverished, long-suffering, decent culture and people.
This is legislative exploitation, of long-marginalized rural white people.