Recently, a Journal Sentinel editorial criticized Republicans for going too far and making it too difficult for individuals to file complaints against school districts for race-based Indian mascots and team names. The JS editorial board, quite simply, observed that requiring petition signatures from no less than 10% of the school district’s student body population is setting the bar too high for accusers.
Presuming they are right – that the bar is too high and too difficult to satisfy – where do they suggest the bar should be set? The editorial reads,
“That's a tall hurdle to jump, and it presumes that the question is whether district residents are offended by the use of mascots and names that reflect stereotypes of Indians or other minorities. That is not the question. The question is whether the use of such names and mascots promotes stereotypes and attitudes that by their very nature are offensive.”
Ostensibly, it’s easier to conjecture about what is “by nature” offensive than it is to author legislation that uses local control to weed out frivolous complaints. For instance, a case can be made that “Washington Redskins” is an offensive team name, in part, because redskins has been used increasingly in a pejorative way over the years. It is more difficult to make the case, however, that “Mukwonago Indians” is an offensive name.
It's difficult because reasonable people disagree about the name being offensive. In cases like these, the burden of proof should rest with the accuser and only after support is gathered by members of the local community. Otherwise, proving that a team name is "by nature" offensive will just be an act of futility.
Adding to the confusion is the feigned outrage by Democrats over the bill.
"You can't call me a nigger and it's OK," Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), told her colleagues on the Senate floor. "We should not be able to call them savages, redskins or even Indians."
Adding her two cents was freshman Senator Nikiya Harris (D-Milwaukee),
"The audacity of white people telling people of color what this is and what this ain't! This is a race issue. This nonsense that this ain't a race issue; this nonsense that we're making this up — really? This is racism!"
There are two distinct claims being made. Taylor is advocating for a limit on free speech evoking emotive and vulgar language to make a point. (Does anyone believe we should start using the N-word at the State Capitol?)
Harris seems to be maing a broad-brushed claim that white people are unqualified to examine or speak authoritatively on matters of race. This is actually good to know. I’m curious if she is willing to say that only judges of color should preside over cases that involve racism or race-based discrimination. If not, anything else would seem to be audacious.
For Democrats to denounce bills based exclusively on the ethnic background of those who propose them is unwarranted, embarrassing, and inexcusable. It also is suggestive of losing the argument. Despite what they think, Democrats don’t own minority issues. They don’t get to speak authoritatively for me on what bills are racist. To suggest that only minority legislators can speak to matters of race is nothing more than political maneuvering and a possible foreshadowing of what's to come in 2014.