Bill banning lessons on systemic racism heads to Gov. Tony Evers and a likely veto

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MADISON - Wisconsin school officials would be barred from teaching students and staff lessons on systemic racism under legislation Republicans in the state Senate sent to Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday.

At the heart of the bill proposed by Sen. Andre Jacque, R-De Pere, and Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, is the nationwide controversy over critical race theory — though the legislation avoids mentioning the concept.

Though specific definitions differ, critical race theory argues that racism has permeated American social, economic and legal institutions and created disadvantages for people of color.

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Assembly Bill 411 passed the Assembly in September. Evers is expected to veto the bill.

The legislation was introduced in 2021 by Republican lawmakers as part of a movement among conservatives fearful of children learning ways racism has permeated institutions, potentially leaving white students feeling guilty.

A number of educators in Wisconsin have opposed the bill, concerned that teachers will be pressured to sanitize history lessons and other subjects that involve the intersection of race and culture.

Republicans sponsoring the bill have said they want to make sure children are not made to feel personally responsible for the actions of others in the past, or that America is inherently racist or sexist.

Democrats said the rules would result in widespread ignorance of how differently Black Americans have been treated under government policies and how those experiences play out today.

"In order for the Dr. Martin Luther King quote, for young black and brown children to be seen by the content of their character, and not the color of their skin, we're going to have to be honest about our history. We're going to have to approach it head-on," Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said after detailing the 2016 detaining of her then-16-year-old son by police while he was delivering a frozen turkey to a neighbor.

Sen. La Tonya, D-Milwaukee, who also is Black, said she named her daughter Sydney in the hopes she would appear to be white on job applications.

"I thought about my daughter's name when she was in the womb but not for the reasons that most people think of their child's name," she said. "If racism doesn't exist, why did I have to think about my unborn child's ability to get a job interview?"

"Anti sexism ... does that mean (lessons saying) women in this country make about 70 cents on the dollar compared to men?" she said. "Does us not talking about it, or teaching our children about it, does that make it not exist? No. What it does is it provides a safe space, a home, for racism and bigotry — which is precisely the pulse to be what this bill is against."

Jacque said Democrats were misunderstanding the intention of the bill.

"I want to be clear that these bills do nothing to stop the teaching of history. Only the attachment of ideology and promoting division by insisting that racism or gender can and must explain every possible facet of human interaction in today's society," he said.

"The concept that the United States is fundamentally racist or sexist and that any individual by virtue of their race or sex is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive is fundamentally untrue."

Jacque said he introduced the bill after hearing from parents and students of color who were told "they should expect racial discrimination or to achieve less than their individual merit and hard work justify."

The bill passed 20-13 with Republican Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green joining Democrats in opposing the bill.

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Contact Molly Beck at molly.beck@jrn.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyBeck.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Bill banning lessons on systemic racism heads to Gov. Tony Evers

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