November 6, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Raced-Based Mascots - Institutionalizing Racism

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

This week, Republicans in the state Senate passed a measure helping schools keep their Native American team names and mascots. This bill was passed despite Wisconsin’s eleven tribes being untied against the legislative challenge, as they find the inappropriate usage of pieces of their culture offensive, ignorant and disrespectful. As of now, the only thing stopping this bill from being passed into law is Governor Scott Walker’s signature.

Under current law, any school district resident can file a formal complaint against the use of race-based nicknames. When the complaint is received, the state superintendent must hold a hearing of the complaint, and if it is found that discrimination is being promoted within the school district, the school board must terminate the use of the nickname within the next 12 months. This new bill eliminates the complaint process and permits school districts to ignore existing orders to terminate their use of race-based nicknames. In other words, this bill makes the discrimination against Native Americas easier than ever.

Somehow, we believe our legislative process is fair and balanced. We believe that because of our country’s democratic upbringing and institutionalized emphasis on equality, that our legislature would be composed among a variety of interests, racial backgrounds, and ideas. However, through observing the blatant underrepresentation of minorities in our legislature, it is clear that our perceptions are far from reality.

It is hard for me to understand how this bill accomplishes anything except for explicit racism and discrimination. As a voice among one of the few represented minority groups in the Wisconsin legislature, I speak for those who cannot. The majority view surrounding this bill is one of ignorance; Republican’s believe this bill corrects a wrong that has been perpetrated on the people of Wisconsin. Republican’s say this bill is not about race; they say it is about school tradition and pride. I am here to tell you this bill is a racial bill; it promotes the majority group’s discrimination against the minority.

I am not afraid to make choices and use my voice against the voices of injustice. Our state needs fighters because the simple fact is that this state is a leader in racial disparity. Let me repeat that, Wisconsin is a leader in the discrimination against minority groups.

We are standing on ground that needs significant improvement. I suggest the place we should stand is one that makes our children and their children proud. Wisconsin was once a state leading the war against racial discrimination; consider how we stood in 1865, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ezekiel Gillespie, or when Joshua Glover came to Wisconsin and abolitionists protect him from being returned to slavery. When this glorious land became a state, it believed in making sure equality was guaranteed for all people.

Why is that now, in 2013, our state Senate has passed a law that permits Native Americans to be called savages, red skins, and Indians in our public schools, where our children are being raised. The Native American community in Wisconsin deserves respect in every district. I will not stand alongside the views of my Republican colleagues. Join me in the fight against the discrimination of Native Americans and the Wisconsin Legislature’s passel of assembly bill 297. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness” (John 2:9). As always, I am here to serve!