Fighting Racism, Quietly

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the nation found itself in quick and profound reflection on racial justice, and Xusana Davis’ Vermont office was inundated with calls and letters. Ms. Davis, Vermont’s first executive director of racial equity, says many of her government colleagues are eager to help.

Ms. Davis adds that many people who normally wouldn’t have sought out did so because they were questioning whether or not their actions were having the desired effect or whether or not they were doing any harm.

Ms. Davis is intently Listening to all Sides of the Racial Discussions.

She interacts with people of all walks of life, from newly arrived refugees to long-time Vermont residents who are just now learning about racism’s effects on their community. Considering the current political climate, some people may feel uncomfortable discussing racial issues.

“I try to listen without passing judgement in order to combat this,” Ms. Davis explains. I’m not interested in delving into someone’s present or prior beliefs. I’d rather guide them to deeper thought and more effective action.

Ms. Davis formally started working in this Cabinet-level capacity in the summer of 2019, after previously serving as a top official in the New York City health department. Her primary responsibility in Vermont is to examine all levels of government for evidence of racism and other forms of systematic inequality.

Although 94% of Vermont’s population is white, the state is not immune to racism. In 2018, politician Kiah Morris resigned due to extreme racial abuse, and this year, Black Lives Matter murals placed on roadways have been vandalised. Tabitha Moore, president of the Rutland Area NAACP, and her teenage daughter have been the targets of persistent racist abuse, prompting the family to leave their home.

Ms. Moore serves on the Racial Equity Task Force for the state that was established this year and is chaired by Ms. Davis. Ms. Moore and many other activists lobbied state lawmakers to pass a bill that would establish a directorate for racial equity at the state level.

She Explains That her Neutrality is a Tacit Acceptance of Different Systems.

Since people of colour in Vermont have been hit harder than whites by the current COVID-19 pandemic, following national trends, the need for racial equity has become more pressing than ever. According to Representative Kevin Christie, who serves as chair of the Vermont Human Rights Commission, Ms. Davis has helped coordinate the translation and dissemination of public health information, assisted key employees seeking help, and addressed gaps in data collecting.

“She was crucial in keeping an eye on how well we were doing, and being that point of access for those who didn’t know where else to go,” says Mr. Christie, who was a lead sponsor of the legislation in 2018 that established the job of executive director of racial equity.

In the Beginning

Ms. Davis is the first member of her family to be born in the United States. She was born in White Plains. Her parents, who are originally from the Dominican Republic but faced prejudice in the United States because of their accents, were extremely meticulous about how Ms. Davis and her brother acquired the language.

“I felt different from people around me since I grew up in a mainly African American region as a child and then relocated to a predominantly white one as an adolescent,” Ms. Davis adds.

In time, She would Learn to Appreciate her Unique Background and Use it as Fuel in her Pursuit of Racial Harmony.

Ms. Davis is an attorney who specialises in international human rights law; she graduated from New York Law School. While there, she oversaw a programme that taught minority and low-income adolescents about their civil rights. Despite her misgivings about the establishment, she decided to try making a difference from within by entering the workforce.

As luck would have it, she found employment with the New York City Health Department, where she now serves as director of health and housing strategic projects.

Ms. Davis explains that much of her work involved communicating with programme heads located all around the city.

Conducting Oneself as a Leader Deserving of Respect

Ms. Davis is continuing her work to combat institutional racism in Vermont’s government by cultivating relationships with relevant parties. Her method is well-liked by her coworkers. She can take strong stands on the issues while still knowing how to relate well to people and listen, Ms. Moore observed.

Ms. Moore comments, “One of the first things I saw was her sense of respect for everyone in the room.” In spite of her intimidating presence, she prefers to keep to herself and think things through.

Ms. Davis’ post was established under legislation that was mostly drafted by Vermont Senator Jeanette White, who chairs the Government Operations Committee. “When she talks to people, she doesn’t mince words, and she doesn’t skim over things,” Senator White said.

Advocates stress that the state must allocate resources and financing to support Ms. Davis’s work as she continues.