Sibilia: Vermont J.R.H. 6

My comments on the virtual floor during debate on J.R.H. 6 a resolution which declares racism a public health emergency. The disparities in health outcomes not only for COVID-19 but for maternal healthcare are significant. Acknowledgement of those disparities is the first step towards resolving them.

Dissent and disagreement is a part of the People’s representative’s debate about priorities. In Vermont, legislators typically work hard to not be disagreeable in their disagreements. This resolution passed today on a roll call vote 135-8

Madame Speaker,

It is important to me to find and celebrate consensus and majority agreement in today’s hyper-partisan world.

But yesterday we heard the words of privilege and white supremacy spoken during debate on this resolution.

And so today I rise not only as a sponsor and supporter of this resolution, but to challenge those words.

When I was first seated in the House Chamber, it was next to another first year member in Seat 126, the former member from Bennington, a powerful voice for justice who left midway through her second term for health reasons.

Madame Speaker in February of 2016, a Black Lives Matter Resolution was approved for the first time by this body.

May I read from the journalized comments of the former member from Bennington in the Journal of the House February 12, 2016?

The importance of this resolution should not be lost on anyone today. Communities throughout Vermont are engaging in hard conversations about discrimination in our state. The conversations are going beyond the pulpit and into the streets. Our state is changing, in my community, interracial families are growing exponentially. This reflection of diversity is Vermont at its best. The willingness of people from all racial backgrounds to stand in solidarity with this movement across Vermont is such a powerful gift.

She sounded so hopeful and proud in that moment.

And then, similar words to those we heard yesterday were spoken in the chamber – followed by a brutal discussion of the reproductive health of black women in America, oblivious to our nation’s history.

To be anti racist, we must acknowledge the truth of our past and how it continues to shape our present.

The women that America kidnapped, tortured, raped and enslaved had no rights to their own children, much less their own bodies — they were sold or beaten if they couldn’t reproduce. If they did have children, there was no guarantee they’d get to raise them. The parallel horrific history of gynecological experimentation on black women resulted in the privileged excellent prenatal care those of us who choose to have children and who can afford and access that healthcare, have received. This disregard for the whole lives and health of black women and their descendants was systemic. The use of those lives to benefit white Americans was also systemic.

Racism is still a public health crisis. For those who still can not see it – please keep trying.

According to 2018 data from the Centers for Disease Control, there was a 16 percent difference in the mortality rates of Blacks vs. Whites across all ages and causes of death. This means Black Americans in many cases have more than a decade shorter life expectancy than Whites.

Black Lives Matter.

I will be supporting this resolution

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