March 5, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

Two weeks ago, a University of Wisconsin-Madison law school professor, Leonard Kaplan, was alleged to have made statements in his classroom that were blatantly racist towards Hmong-Americans.  Emails put together by students accuse Kaplan of making statements to include, “ Hmong men have no talent other than to kill” and “all second generation Hmong end up in gangs and other criminal activity.” 

When asked by Hmong students to apologize publicly, Kaplan refused and has incited a storm of protests.  Like the students and community members that gathered for an explanation recently, I am both saddened and frustrated.  If such a display of blatant ignorance and bigotry occurred, how can this be treated as so commonplace in our society.

It would be easy for us to simply assume this is one bad apple, acting alone.  His actions, if substantiated, however, are the symptom of a greater disease that must also be addressed.  Despite all our best efforts, an inconvenient truth remains:  Racism, Bigotry, and Ignorance are still plaguing our communities and will not go away simply because we refuse to talk about it.

Last month, we celebrated Black History in the United States.  Many folks questioned if that exercise was still relevant or needed.  Understanding that Black History is everyday, this incident underscores the need for continued education about the many groups, cultures and ethnicities that inhabit our great country.  The seeds of prejudice continue to be sewn.  We must begin to plant the values of acceptance.  

I know it is always easier to make excuses and to let things like this pass.  After all, can we really defeat racism and hatred?  I’m sure that’s how Rosa Parks felt when she sat down on that bus in Montgomery.  She may have wondered, “should I give up my seat one more time?”  Thank God she didn’t.  Thank God she fought back.

Now, nearly 50 years later, we are still being asked to give up our seats.  Every time others try to sweep racism under the carpet, we face the same question that Ms. Parks faced. Is it worth the fight?  I am here today to tell you that it is!

Dr. King was right when he stated that Injustice anywhere is a threat to Justice everywhere.  Every where we look these days, it seems that Justice is under attack.  We have no choice, we must fight back! The fight will not be waged with violence, but through a steady insistence that racism be exposed, individuals be held accountable, and a commitment to educate even those who claim to be educated.  

First though, we must acknowledge that problems still exist.  We must come to terms with our own inconvenient truth. We owe it to future generations to do everything in our ability to distinguish the fires of bigotry now, before they again flare up.  We are being asked to give up our seat, and we ain’t moving!