Allegations of racism spark protest at Burlington Art Gallery

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Artist Misoo Bang in his studio in Shelburne on March 31. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A protest is planned outside one of Burlington’s most prominent art galleries on Saturday after a former employee recently alleged she experienced racial discrimination while working there.

The employee, Misoo Bang, said her manager at the Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery made racist comments to her several times during Bang’s three years at the store.

Bang, who is Korean, quit her job as assistant manager at Frog Hollow in March after a fatal shooting at several Asian spas in Atlanta prompted her to confront the racism she encountered in her own life, a- she told VTDigger.

She now plans to demonstrate outside the Church Street gallery on Saturday, demanding that the manager who allegedly made the racist comments be fired, she said.

In a Sunday social networks post and in an interview with VTDigger last month, Bang described several instances in which the manager allegedly made comments about her race or implied that Bang should behave in a manner consistent with stereotypes about Asians.

In one instance, the director allegedly shared with Bang that the director’s Halloween costume was a pregnant “Chinese bitch” and that her boyfriend had dressed up as an American soldier.

On another occasion, when Asians “wearing traditional clothes and dancing” in a parade walked past the store, the manager allegedly told Bang to “go join your people,” Bang said.

On another occasion, the director reportedly said Bang’s “exotic look” caused customers to spend more money when shopping at the gallery.

At some point during the Covid-19 pandemic, the manager allegedly asked Bang if she was buying bat meat after Bang mentioned she was visiting an Asian market. Bang, who is not Chinese, said she understood the comment in relation to the discredited belief that Covid-19 came from people in China consuming infected bats.

In her resignation letter delivered to the board in March, Bang told executives that she had “encountered racism towards myself at Frog Hollow” and expressed concern that the organization would not did not require employees to participate in inclusiveness training. She argued that instituting such practices would “make workers feel safe.”

Bang did not go public with her claims immediately after leaving Frog Hollow because she believed the organization would become more inclusive after seeing her leave, she said.

But after four months, Bang said she had received no indication that the council would address her concerns. Bang contacted Frog Hollow board member Rachel Morton in August to ask what the organization had done to improve its inclusiveness.

According to emails Bang shared with VTDigger, Morton replied, “We take the experiences of Gallery staff and customers seriously, and we appreciate your offering your insight.”

“We are updating our employment policy and continuing to work on promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace,” Morton’s email continued.

In September, Bang asked for an update, including “specific actions” the company had taken since his resignation. Morton replied that she would return to Bang after the Frog Hollow Board of Directors met the following week.

Beth Danon, an attorney who represents Frog Hollow, said the organization has updated its employee handbook. Danon said Morton didn’t respond to Bang’s email from September because she “dropped the ball.”

With no response from Morton, Bang emailed her again on December 1, this time detailing the instances of racism she says she experienced in Frog Hollow.

In response, Morton said the December 1 email was the first time she had heard the specific examples referenced by Bang. Morton asked to meet Bang, but Bang declined, saying in a response email that she didn’t want to talk “after 8 months of waiting and feeling rejected.”

Ten days later, she shared her claims on social media.

Carol MacDonald, chair of the board of directors of Frog Hollow, said in a statement that the organization plans to update its equal employment and anti-discrimination policies, hire an executive director and to appoint an independent investigator to look into Bang’s allegations. seven days first reported the gallery plans for an inquest on Wednesday night.

Beth Danon, an attorney who represents Frog Hollow, says the investigation is aimed at determining the credibility of Bang and the manager.

For Bang, however, the investigation and the hiring of the executive director are counterproductive.

The executive director position gives too much power to one person in the organization, she said, making it easier to sweep discrimination under the rug. She also sees the hiring of the independent investigator as a measure to protect the official who allegedly made the racist comments.

“I think they want to downplay everything we say,” Bang said.

The protest — which will take place on what will likely be one of the busiest days of the holiday shopping season — will be quiet, Bang told VTDigger. She plans to hold signs outside the store Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. and may be joined by others.

“My goal is to let them know that we are here and we will fight,” she said. “I hope it will impact them.”

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