By Senator Lena C. Taylor
Republicans Work to Silence Discussions on Race
Frequently, when people want to dodge honest conversations about racism, they trot out a singular quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” However, a cursory review of King’s work also reveals his views on institutional and systemic racism.
In an essay, published in 1969 titled “A Testament of Hope,” King said, “Justice for Black people will not flow into this society merely from court decisions nor from fountains of political oratory… White America must recognize that justice for Black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society”. King also wrote in his 1958 book “Stride Toward Freedom,” that “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.”
I was reminded of these words as the Wisconsin State Senate recently held debate on bills about everything from prohibiting anti-racism and anti-sexism instruction to a Black History month resolution. In an attempt to assuage Republican attacks on any discussion of the systemic impact of race, a litany of bills sought to silence haunting questions and force us to turn a blind eye to our nation’s past treatment of people of color.
Slavery happened, Black Codes were real, and the Green Book was created to provide information to blacks about where they could safely travel in this country. I was born during Jim Crow and was 2 years old when Black women, in reality, got the right to vote. We don’t get to run from these facts, because of discomfort. Discussions, education and training about racism and sexism are not hateful, reverse discrimination, or intended to attack any group or individual. But, as they say, “A hit dog will holler.”
Republicans have tripped over themselves to deny any long-lasting impacts of slavery and continued disparate treatment of Black people. In an organized and national determination, they are structuring laws and policies that remove the ability for thoughtful engagement and review of these issues. However, as the old saying goes, “None of us are free until all of us are free.”
On Aug. 28, 1963, King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “But 100 years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination.”
We can’t cherry pick King’s statements, no more than we can cherry pick history. We have to be honest about the ramifications of that history and its impact on race and gender-based inequities in our nation’s systems. We need to give residents the tools needed to never repeat the mistakes of the past.