Bizarro Bigotry: Republicans Invoke MLK To Promote “Colorblind” Agenda

Up was down yesterday on the floor of the Iowa House of Representatives, as Republicans invoked Martin Luther King, Jr. and Karl Marx as they passed House File 802, a bill that would whitewash education by prohibiting the discussion of so-called “divisive concepts” in diversity training programs.

The bill passed 59-36.

One amendment expanded the application from educational institutions to all state government agencies that might provide that training.

Another amendment added that Iowans can’t be discriminated against based on their political ideology, the same way they can’t be discriminated against based on their race, sex, ethnicity or any other trait mentioned the Civil Rights Act of Iowa.

During debate, House Democrats repeatedly mentioned that sometimes people can’t know what they’ve never experienced, and that these trainings expose people to those realities.

“These are facts, and you’re asking us not to teach about facts,” said Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell.

She illustrated the structural ways racism and sexism exist by talking about how much each group gets paid in relation to white men, and how inequities in the health care system lead to worse outcomes for people of color.

Other Democratic members of the House provided additional examples of racism and sexism, and how they come up in systemic ways.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler took the floor and used it to argue that reverse racism and critical race theory are the real problems behind the country’s division.

“Critical race theory destroys the hard-fought efforts to make our founding truths universal and sets us back as a country,” he said. “We must stand for truth, for our founders, for our universal truths, for Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream and for the unification of our country by passing this bill and taking a stand against cultural Marxism.”

He also quoted Ben Shapiro.

Rep. Sandy Salmon agreed that this bill prevents critical race theory from being forced on people in the state. 

“Critical theory is simply Marxism that has been updated for the modern day,” she said, labeling it Marxism 2.0. because the qualifiers for “oppressors and oppressed” has been changed from class to race.

Salmon said those ideas are encapsulated by the “divisive concepts” listed in the bill.

Twice, Democrats called for a point of order because of her comments.

The common Republican argument was that teaching about bias and privilege further divides the country, especially when those labels are applied broadly to one group.

Rep. Steven Holt, who leads the bill, said people aren’t prohibited from talking about bias entirely in training, but it has to come up in a wider discussion.

“We’re saying you cannot teach these divisive concepts as part of training to employees or to students as facts without having a larger discussion,” Holt said, in response to questions from Rep. Ras Smith. “I think we can continue to have these robust discussions and I think we have to have these robust discussions. I think we can do that without scapegoating.”

After asking for that clarification, Smith said he was concerned about those discussions happening at all if left up to people asking questions.

“My concern is that we’re removing the opportunity in any sector outside of this work, to have those conservations to move our society forward,” he said.

Smith pointed out that people quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to call for unity, but that it’s still an ideal, not a reality.

He said the discrimination King and other Black people faced then and what people of color experience now is still a result of skin color, not the content of their characters.

So, conversations about bias and privilege are still important to achieve the progress and equality everyone’s calling for.

“If we remove that tool to have critical conversation amongst each other outside of this venue, we’ve by default removed the opportunity to move our communities, our civilization, our state—this great state—forward,” Smith said.

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