An intensifying national battle over critical race theory (“CRT”) has spilled into the country’s educational and legislative systems. This battle is not really about the academic concept of CRT, but an attack on important, good efforts to teach about the role of systemic and institutionalized racism in our society. This is an attempt to place a gag-order on any public discourse that acknowledges the institutions of slavery, Jim Crow, restrictions on voting rights, or redlining, to name a few. Governments should not be told how to train their employees. This is a fundamental attack on the free speech rights of local government. Policymakers across local, state, and national levels are attempting to penalize local agencies for discussing systemic racism. This pushback is not new. It sits within a historical pattern of conservative legislation as a response to the collective success of democratic organizing. We saw this after the triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement as well as most recently in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the multiracial uprising of 25 million people across the world led by Black Lives Matter.

Now, Wisconsin legislators have weaponized distortions of CRT to deny our history. This is an extension of former President Trump’s executive order prohibiting training on racism and sexism as an attempt to paint racism as only individual and not systemic (which has since been reversed by President Joe Biden). We know that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that systemic racism and racial discrimination are a major problem in our country. The organization Race Forward conducted research to show that the term “systemic racism” was used more times in the media following the murder of George Floyd than in the last 30 years combined. This bill is a response to the wide-ranging and growing recognition of how systemic racism shapes almost every life outcome in our country.

On January 20, during his first day in office, President Biden rescinded the executive order banning racial equity training and replaced it with one to advance racial equity. In response, legislators across the country have introduced upwards of 26 state legislative bills banning racial equity work in government and education.

Now, Wisconsin joins the list of states with legislation preventing local government from training against systemic racism, and threatening cuts in State aid. Assembly Bill 414 does not mention critical race theory but claims to prohibit "race or sex stereotyping" in training provided to employees of local and state government. The bill includes a potential 10% cut in shared revenue payments for political subdivisions that violate its provisions, yet another attack on local control.

These legislative attacks on educating about systemic racism are meant to distract us from working to create racially equitable systems, which benefit all Wisconsin residents. This legislation would have us avoid or ignore inclusive perspectives of our shared history and experiences. This is not the way forward. We must focus on having honest and courageous conversations about race in our neighborhoods, government, and workplaces. This is how we work towards developing a safe, just, and equitable society.

If you want to join me in contacting your state legislators about this issue, you can find their contact information here:

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Category: Equity