By LaKeshia N. Myers
White America is afraid. And as is customary in observed white culture, when white fear is stoked, the response is often violent and fueled by demonstrations of political excise. Why are they afraid? Because America is “browning”—according to census and immigration data, by the year 2040, white Americans will no longer be the racial majority in the United States.
Historically, we saw this during the Reconstruction era, when after millions of formerly enslaved Black Americans were freed, southern state legislatures created the Black Codes, that restricted Black people’s right to own property, conduct business, buy and lease land, and move freely through public spaces. Just as the Ku Klux Klan was revived after the Civil War, modern-day hate groups like the Proud Boys, Neo Nazis, and American Identity Movement operate with the same intensity.
While outward forces of racial hatred against people of color are no longer as common as they were during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras, what has taken the place of physical violence is annihilation via public policy. This has been on full display in state capitols across the country as laws have been introduced and passed that restrict access to healthcare, social aid programs, and most notably a full-fledged assault on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the last legislative session, Wisconsin was among forty-four states that introduced bills or took other steps that would restrict teaching critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism, according to an Education Week analysis (2023).
Just this week, the Wisconsin Assembly Speaker introduced legislation to shutter Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion offices on UW campuses and hinted at potential budget cuts if the University of Wisconsin System fails to make a good-faith effort on his request (Journal-Sentinel, 2023). The speaker said, “If they want to increase their funding, they have to show they can prioritize things to grow the economy, not grow the racial divide.” How dreadful is it that the Assembly speaker is so misguided that he fails to realize that an ethnically diverse workforce is part of the economic growth model for our state. Instead of shunning diversity, he should be embracing it and encouraging more employers to diversify their talent pool.
The facts are immutable; in order to thrive in a global economy, we must have a steady supply of qualified workers. This cannot and will not happen through osmosis. It also will not happen relying on past practices and hoping that industries that have long gone or changed exponentially return. Wisconsin must evolve from its narrow blue collar and linear agricultural image and embrace the fact that education and technological skills are necessary in the twenty-first century job market.
Frederick Douglass said it best, “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will;” I hope the speaker understands that the people are demanding that diversity, equity, and inclusion be the centerpiece of the future and will not rest until it is so.