By LaKeshia Myers
Its stain is as old as America itself. It is imbued in the fabric of our society. While some thought it to be dead—it is a cancer that refuses to die. It hangs on for dear life through the use of treasonous flags, institutional discrimination, and by the mere fact that it can be easily dismissed and/or ignored. I am speaking of racism. No matter how one may try to deny its feverish existence, it exists and it has been on full display for all to see in our great state.
Allow me to refresh your memory: the 2018 Baraboo High School prom photo where students posed while performing the Sieg Heil Nazi salute; the 2019 University of Wisconsin Homecoming video that did not include African American and Latino students; September 2019, a Native American student received a note to “Go back to the rez” which included a racial slur. November 2019, five members of the UW-Eau Claire football team were suspended after using the social media platform Snapchat to mock a campus Black Male Empowerment group with a picture showing Ku Klux Klan members burning cross.
In January of this year Wisconsin Dells High School came under fire for hosting a meeting that segregated students by race; the principal sent a letter of apology to the school community. And just a week ago, on Feb. 19, the Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau School District near LaCrosse, WI, was investigating an incident where students used social media to threaten the life of a student. A noose was superimposed onto a photo of the teen with statements such as “tar and feather this nigger” and “shoot a nigger in the head with a shotgun”.
All of these incidents come on the precipice of the Miller/MolsonCoors shooting that took place on Feb. 26, when a lone gunman, identified as Anthony Ferrill took the lives of five of his co-workers as well as himself. According to some sources, Ferrill had sued the company over issues with racial discrimination, but was terminated on the day of the shooting. If this is true, it provides a differing perspective that is often ignored—how racism affects mental health. Both Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, and several organizations have declared racism a public health crisis in our state. To declare racism a crisis is one thing—to allocate resources to address racial incidences, educate the public (both the white community and people of color), and advocate holistic healing is quite another. Hopefully, as the news continues to unfold regarding this tragic incident we will understand what protocols were in place at MolsonCoors; how often was diversity and inclusion training provided for employees? What is the employee grievance process to report incidents of racial discrimination? What Employee Assistance Programming is available to help with mental wellness for employees?
In the wake of this tragedy I urge the public to elevate the conversation beyond just “thoughts and prayers.” It is time to move toward action— not just on the subject of guns and restricting use and access or assessing one’s mental capacity to carry. This is a plea to look at the totality of a situation and understand the intersectionality of us all. As a state we need to examine ourselves, our families, and our behavior. It is time to say what we all know is true— defacto segregation is a reality in our state and we need to work earnestly to fix it. It lives in our policies, our procedures, and our thought patterns.
As this is the final week of Black History Month 2020, I am reminded of a quote by the late James Baldwin, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”