Editorial: To honor Black History Month, focus on the people and events that matter—not the political sideshows

In this photo from Sept. 1, 1967, Father James Groppi leads an open housing demonstration in Milwaukee.

In this photo from Sept. 1, 1967, Father James Groppi leads an open housing demonstration in Milwaukee. Groppi led efforts to combat de-facto segregation. For several nights in 1967, Fr. Groppi led marchers out of Black neighborhods to rallies on Milwaukee's "all white" South Side. Arrested on many occasions for civil disobedience, Groppi was instrumental in calling public attention to segregation in Milwaukee and led efforts to overturn it. (Photo courtesy: Bettman via Getty Images)

By Pat Kreitlow

February 2, 2024

Pretending systemic racism no longer exists—a hallmark of Republican orthodoxy—makes a proper commemoration of Black History Month next to impossible in our state capitol.

 

Black History Month in Wisconsin will be marked with luncheons and dinners in DePere, Green Bay, and elsewhere. There will be public speakers in places like Kaukauna. There will be a mobile museum, Afro hair fairs, an Ebony Ball, and more. There will be a presentation at Marquette University titled, “Things Your History Teacher Didn’t Teach You: Blacks in History.”

In Madison, there will be movie nights, book discussions, and story hours for children. Events in Oshkosh range from a hip hop fitness class to trivia contests and gospel choir performances. A Black women-owned business expo is planned in Beloit. In Eau Claire, you can see a presentation on “Black History Through the Arts.”

Here in February, there is no shortage of opportunities to commemorate, celebrate, or simply gain appreciation for Black History Month. Expect great discussions, spirited debates, heads bowed, and heads held high. Keep all of that positive potential in mind.

Conversely, do not put a lot of stock in the Wisconsin Legislature if it again gets bogged down in acrimony over something as simple as passing a Black History Month resolution.

While a resolution did pass last year (in March), there were several years when Republicans blocked any action because they wanted to dictate to the Legislative Black Caucus who could and could not be mentioned in such a resolution. (Yes, predictably, a lot of their pearl-clutching centered on Wisconsin’s own Colin Kaepernick.)

This week, Assembly Republicans held a hearing on a resolution that would ask voters to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to say government entities “may not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in public employment, public education, public contracting, or public administration.”

Over in the Senate, a hearing was held on a bill to bar race and gender consideration when helping people afford a college education. 

In other words, it appears Republicans believe systemic racism has been solved! No need to do anything special that addresses biases, shortcomings, poor outcomes, or whitewashed history lessons—except to repeat wild conspiracies entwined in acronyms—CRT, DEI, and BLM are the real problems, they’ll tell you. 

Sen. Eric Wimberger (R-Green Bay) said in this week’s hearing “One of the main effects this bill will have is it will put race hustlers out of business.”

Race hustlers? Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire) asked for a definition.

“Oh, um, race hustlers would be all those people who sell seminars and, um, like Al Sharpton,” Wimberger replied.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t search “race hustlers” on Twitter/X unless you’re interested in seeing what occupies the gutters of social media. Wimberger would do well to remove that dog whistle from his vocabulary.

Also, don’t be surprised if you lose count of how many lawmakers prove that the “content of their character” line from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is still the only King quote they’ve ever bothered to learn.

Instead of the sideshow under the big top in Madison, take time this month to focus on what’s happening in so many other places around Wisconsin where you can find honest discussions held in good faith, about how we should never stop striving to create that more perfect union—not just during Black History Month, but day after day until we really do provide liberty and justice for all.

Author

  • 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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