Traveling While Black & American: Vermont Edition
Updated: Dec 6, 2020
DISCLAIMER: In an effort to shed light on a lens that I travel everywhere with, I decided that it was important for me to explicitly talk about My Black American Traveler Experience. I want to stress that everyone has their own experiences and biases traveling to any country. Therefore, my experience may not be your own. In specifying the Black American identity, I acknowledge that while there are some commonalities in experiences as Black people, there is also a privilege that comes with being an American. I am supplementing my thoughts and experience with a context on demographics as I think that it is important in order to paint the whole picture!
Keep reading this blog post as I will answer some of the most common questions:
What is the population of Vermont 2020?
What is the racial makeup of Vermont?
What is traveling like while Black in Vermont?
Is Vermont safe for Black people?
Are there Black-owned spots in Vermont?
I am about to drop the real tea on Vermont as a Black traveler...
What I Expected
I expected Vermont to be WHITE AF. I do not know anyone personally from Vermont and when I mentioned to Black friends that I was heading to Vermont, I got the “but why?” question. When I think of Vermont, I think of Bernie Sanders, although he is technically not even from Vermont. Basically, I had no idea what to expect in terms of people. However, I just knew that I wanted to see Fall foliage. As a result, I went to Vermont hoping for the best in terms of my Black American experience. I had not researched ahead of time. However, as I wrote this article, I came across these interesting perspectives:
Article: “What’s it like to be black in Vermont?”
It is WHITE AF 🤣. More White than I ever anticipated. However...white does not mean racist.
Treatment & Safety:
As a Black person, I not only felt safe but welcomed too. Every restaurant we went to (and I was with another person of color -- a Filipino friend), we received great service. Most places would engage us in longer conversations than I would ever have in a NYC restaurant. In fact, one place even remembered my name when I returned the next day. It felt like I was in a utopia!
In terms of language, it was easy to get around because everyone spoke English since this is the United States. However, you will come across some French signs since Vermont is only 2 hours away from Montreal.
Vibe & Culture:
I did not see much of Black culture. However, I also did not actively look for it on this trip because I was so focused on experiencing all things Fall. Later in this post, I list places to help you find the Black history and culture that I hope to experience myself when I return.
Nearly non-existent. When I say non-existent, this reached a new level in Vermont compared to any other state I had traveled to so far. My friend and I actually played a game where I would count the number of Black people I saw and he would count the number of Asian people he saw (since he is Filipino) to see who we saw more. I think in total during this trip, we both counted nearly 30 people, mostly found on Church Street in Burlington (which is where many tourists frequent). This does not even compare the smallest bit to the number of Black people I would see on a bus or train commute in NYC or in my current building! There were definitely many places where I was the only Black person. Aside from a few stares from some middle-aged white women at a vineyard, I did not feel like I was treated any differently.
I am super excited to talk about this. Why? Well, when I saw how white Vermont was, I felt compelled to search the demographics as I was traveling. It was very enlightening because it sheds light on the level of whiteness in Vermont. However, it also explains why I did not feel Vermont was racist (at least to my face).
Let’s start off with the basics:
Vermont is the 2nd least populous state in the country with 625,000+. Dang. Not even 1 million people!
Of the 625,000+ people, only 1.27% is Black. This means that only 8,000 people in the WHOLE STATE look like me. The population is 94.2% white. For perspective, nationally, 76.3% of the population is white while 13.4% is Black.
Vermont has the third-fewest number of Blacks as a percentage of its population
OK, so let’s take a look at Burlington, which is the largest city in Vermont. As I said before, this is where I came across the most Black folk. There are about 42,000 people living there, with 5.47% of the population being Black. That means that 2,200 out of the 8,000 Black people in the state are in Burlington.
Now that we got the basics, let’s dig into some deeper stats that had me in SHOCK in a good way:
Vermont is the only state in which a larger number of Black adults have graduated from college than white adults. SAY WHAT! YASSSS!
Across the state, 37.0% of African American adults have at least a bachelor’s degree — the highest compared to any state — and higher than the 35.1% of white residents with similar educational attainment. *SNAP SNAP*
The difference in incomes between white and black residents is the smallest in the country. The typical African American household in Vermont earns $50,933 annually, the third most of any state, and about $4,000 less than the state’s typical white household. By comparison, the national income gap between white and black Americans is roughly $24,000. Clearly, Vermont is doing something right!
Vermont is one of just two states that allow incarcerated citizens on a felony charge to vote while in prison (the other being Maine).. HUUUUUUGE! As a result, Vermont effectively has no legally disenfranchised black Americans, compared to roughly one in every 13 African Americans nationwide. By contrast, over half-a-million black individuals living in Florida are disenfranchised.
Vermont is ranked second in the country right behind New Hampshire in terms of the narrowest racial divide between whites and Blacks.
Clearly in Vermont, Black. Lives. Matter.
Finding Black Culture in Vermont
Hopefully, I have you convinced that it is safe for our people to visit Vermont. Now, where can you experience some of this Black history & culture? Check the following out:
Black-Owned Spots to Support
Jamaican Jewelz restaurant: Jamaican food truck by a Jamaican-born and raised woman.
Mawuhi African Market: Located in Burlington, this mini-market owned by a Ghanian sells a range of products from Ghanaian palm oil to Bambara beans, cassava flour, and plantain fufu flour to wigs and toilet paper. There are also Caribbean products such as jars of Jamaican curry powder and jerk seasoning. You can even pre-order cooked African and Caribbean food ranging from fish and stew with jollof rice to kelewele, or fried plantains with spices.
Kismayo Kitchen: Owned by Somali-immigrant Ahmed Omar, this small restaurant in Burlington serves all things Somali cuisine along with other items such as pasta, and Philly cheesesteaks. Highly recommended by regulars are the coconut stew or the grilled goat.
Zafa Wines: Located in Isle La Motte, Vermont, this winery is one of the pioneers in the "New American" wine revival, focusing on hybrid grapes in Vermont. They create wines, ciders, co-fermentations, and blends of apples and grapes using native fermentation with no filtering or additives. Owner Krista Scruggs a Black female farmer and winemaker in Vermont. Let that sink in! The best part is Zafa Wines is that it is 100% women-owned and has intentionally maintained at least an 85% all-woman staff with the goal of providing opportunities first and foremost to skilled qualified, marginalized individuals, including POC and Women. You can purchase wines from CO Cellars, which is a collaborative cellar & bar from ZAFA Farm & Winery and Shacksbury Cider located in Burlington.
Jamaican Supreme: a Jamaican food truck typically parked on Lime Kiln Rd. in South Burlington most days. You can order plates with your choice of jerk chicken, ox-tail, curried chicken, curried goat, and others (meat selections rotate) served with rice, peas, and steamed cabbage.
Kool Runninz: a food stand serving Authentic Jamaican food made fresh daily in Montpelier, Vermont.
Curtis BBQ: Located in Putney, VT, this is an open-air road stop selling Southern-style, pit-smoked BBQ and sides from the windows of 2 converted school buses.
Winnie’s International Market: This vendor (both in-person and online) sells seasonings, spices, teas, and pepper sauce along with organic pickles with most vegetables grown in the state of Vermont USA. She also sells jewelry, dolls, and clothing items from Africa. Her Facebook includes many items she sells.
Listing of other Black-Owned Business: Please make sure to double-check any of these spots before going. Some places have closed as a result of the pandemic.
Black History Sites to Visit
African American Heritage Trail: This trail explores the stories of Black Vermonters, whose history has often been overlooked -- they had an impact on agriculture, owned businesses, held public office, and fought alongside fellow citizens in major wars. The Vermont African American Heritage Trail brings you to museums and cultural sites where exhibits, films, tours, and personal stories illuminate the lives of African Americans for whom the Green Mountain State was part of their identity. Follow this detailed guide for 22 sites to dig deep into Vermont’s Black history & heritage.
Rokeby Museum: Located in Ferrisburgh, this museum is a stop along the African-American Heritage Trail. It celebrates Vermont’s history on the Underground Railroad. The mission of the museum is to connect visitors with the human experience of the Underground Railroad and with the lives of the four generations of Robinsons who lived at Rokeby from 1793 to 1961. Visitors can tour the home and farm of Quaker abolitionists Rowland and Rachel Robinson and the multimedia exhibit that introduces two fugitives from slavery who were sheltered at Rokeby in the 1830s.
Smugglers Notch State Park: In addition to this being a spot where locals traded illegally with Canada during the embargo, this was where many slaves used the Notch as an escape route to Canada for freedom.
Clemmons Family Farm: At 148 acres, this family farm is one of the largest African American owned farms in Vermont. It is one of 22 official landmarks on Vermont’s African American Heritage trail -- I mean when you are actively promoting a deeper understanding of the history and culture of African American and African diaspora history, it makes complete sense! The existence of this farm is a HUGE feat -- it is just one of 17 Black-owned farms in Vermont, a state that has more than 7,000 farms. A bigger feat is that it is part of the 0.4% of farms in the US that have remained Black-owned. Not even a full 1%. DAMN. The irony is that we were forced to work on farms as slaves for centuries, but I digress.
Don’t let Vermont’s whiteness fool you. There is a whole lot of Blackness if you go looking for it. Now that we found it, let’s make sure to #travelblack while in Vermont. Personally, I need to return to do a whole trip dedicated to Black Vermont!