Republicans Are Given Traction to Criticize Mandela Barnes—for Criticizing Slavery

Republicans Are Given Traction to Criticize Mandela Barnes—for Criticizing Slavery

Four of the leading candidates in the Democratic primary to determine who will challenge Sen. Ron Johnson in November. L-R, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski (Graphic by Jonathon Sadowski)

By Pat Kreitlow

July 5, 2022

Milwaukee media gives right-wing radio host and politicians a chance to amplify the untruth that learning from America’s past injustices is equal to hating America.

Republicans were successful over the weekend in getting the state’s largest newspaper to elevate the conservative trope that criticizing slavery in America is equivalent to hating America—using comments Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes made almost a year ago.

Barnes, running in the Democratic Party primary for US Senate, is “coming under fire,” according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story still promoted on its home page, though the only fire he appears to be taking is from Republicans who either planted or amplified comments played more than 10 months later by a right-wing Milwaukee radio host.

In video clip from Aug. 19, 2021, Barnes is seen speaking in Portage about the conservative campaign to smear the teaching of racial diversity and whitewash the legacy of slavery in America.

“Imagine being so ashamed of how we got to this place in America,” Barnes said of the right-wing activists, “that you outlaw teaching it.”

Barnes reminded the audience that for all of the talk about freedom and independence in America’s early years, not every American was free as its leaders wrestled with whether to justify or outlaw the ability to treat human beings as property, subject to forced labor, death, torture, and family separation.

“Things were bad. Things were terrible,” Barnes said. “The founding of this nation? Awful. You know, but we are here now and we should commit ourselves to doing everything we can do to repair the harm because it still exists today. Whether it was colonization or whether it was slavery, the impacts are felt today and they’re going to continue to be felt unless we address it in a meaningful way.”

Many conservatives argue—out of a lack of understanding or for sheer political duplicity—that since slavery no longer exists, America does not have a legacy of institutional racism. Republicans are in their second year of a targeted messaging campaign of using the graduate school legal teachings of “critical race theory” as a catch-all term to falsely equate diversity and tolerance with indoctrination of feeling ashamed of one’s country or race.

Reaction from Republicans predictably cast anyone criticizing the less-proud moments of America’s past as hating America itself. Former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, one of four Republicans hoping to challenge Gov. Tony Evers in the fall, used an approach reminiscent of early 20th century red-baiting.

“I love America,” Kleefisch posted, “and our founding principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Evers needs to call out his lieutenant governor for these awful comments about our great nation. Unless of course he agrees…”

Republican legislators in Wisconsin have manufactured controversy about the teaching of racism and inclusion to the point where bills were passed that are designed to ban lessons that could make white people feel uncomfortable.

Maddy McDaniel, a spokesperson for Barnes, told the Journal Sentinel that the portions of Barnes’ remarks that weren’t shared by Republicans included praise for Wisconsin showing a leadership role in diversity that included being the first state to legally reject the Fugitive Slave Act and the first state to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.


  • Pat Kreitlow

    The Founding Editor of UpNorthNews, Pat was a familiar presence on radio and TV stations in western Wisconsin before serving in the state Legislature. After a brief stint living in the Caribbean, Pat and wife returned to Chippewa Falls to be closer to their growing group of grandchildren. He now serves as UNN's chief political correspondent and host of UpNorthNews Radio, airing weekday mornings 6 a.m.-8 a.m on the Civic Media radio network and the UpNorthNews Facebook page.

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