This commentary is by Curtiss Reed Jr. of Brattleboro, president and CEO of CRJ Consulting Group and executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity
Let’s be crystal clear. Those who promote banning the teaching of the inconvenient truths of American history are existential threats to Vermont’s economic prosperity.
They would have you believe that we are in the midst of a culture war. Not true; we are in a fight for the lifeblood of a strong, vibrant, and prosperous Vermont economy. To quote James Carville, “It’s the economy stupid!”
Over the last 50 years, our nation’s consumer base has become and will continue to become more multiracial, multiethnic and multilingual. Ergo, Vermont’s economic growth and prosperity depend on our ability to capture the attention of these multicultural consumers and provide them with goods and experiences that exceed their expectations.
Vermont must position itself as a destination of choice for outdoor enthusiasts, tourists, conventioneers, college students, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists of color, among others. And we need a workforce with the cultural humility to provide exceptional service. We cannot afford to have a dumbed-down workforce in our dynamic multicultural marketplace.
Vermont businesses, if they are to succeed in the coming decades, must have a world-class educated workforce. Proponents of banning teaching the inconvenient truths of genocide, slavery, Jim Crow, domestic terrorism, racism, eugenics, white supremacy, internment camps, etc., do so at the risk of destabilizing our economic growth.
Our potential consumers and entrepreneurs of color expect Vermont businesses, state and municipal governments to have employees well versed in an accurate portrayal of history. Negative racial bias born from ignorance or a distorted whitewashing of history signals to consumers of color that they and their spending power are unwanted in Vermont.
No one wants to do business with knuckleheads or start a business where schools fail to produce a workforce capable of being competitive in the marketplace of diverse consumers.
Young out-of-state families looking to relocate will give Vermont a much more serious look if our schools are teaching students how to be effective in the increasingly multicultural economy. Not to do so only puts another nail in our economic coffin. We can avoid that coffin altogether by rejecting those who would have us teach a very narrow and distorted version of history.
When the fringe element shows up at public meetings, resist the urge to engage them with legal, moral, or social arguments. Instead, let them know that what they want fails to align with the needs of Vermont’s economy.
At a conference of community leaders and business owners in June 2010, then-Gov. Jim Douglas said, “The reality of the demographic trend we are facing demands we be as responsive as we can possibly be. … It’s not just the matter of the right thing to do; it’s economic success and survival and prosperity for everyone.”
His message is a sober but powerful reminder of the work ahead.