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Janet Holbrook: So-called ‘anti-discrimination’ bill would have reinforced systemic racism | COMMENTARY



In October, County Council member Nathan Volke proposed a bill to ban discussion of discrimination at county-funded activities. After hearing from community leaders about the underlying racist message and potential consequences of the vague, copycat bill, council members Volke, Amanda Fiedler and Jessica Haire each voted for the bill.

Those who spoke against the bill included community leaders, clergy, educators, lawyers, League of Women Voters members, high school students, and social service organizations. Those in favor were fewer, mostly individuals, who defended the bill by saying it wouldn’t really do anything. The legal critiques of the bill were merciless, impeccable, and too numerous to recount.

Mr. Volke cited WISE (Women Indivisible Strong Effective) criticism in his introduction of Bill 81-21, which copied other “anti-discrimination” bills being pushed across the country. All of these bills use the same dog whistle — critical race theory: “They want to indoctrinate our children!” The real intent of these bills is to stoke the fires of division that are threatening our country.

First a definition. Critical race theory is a paradigm to understand the influence of race on our legal system and civic life. A central tenet is that race is a social construct that continues to have pervasive negative effects on our legal system and society at large, i.e., systemic racism.

WISE does advocate for discussion of systemic racism, from 1619 to the present. Disparities in health outcomes affect every segment of society; African Americans have higher mortality rates even after accounting for effects of income and education. African American children have higher rates of severe asthma. Low-income white women with a high school education have better outcomes than higher income African American women with a college education, most of whom receive prenatal care. (

The GI Bill, a massive social program that helped create a mostly white middle class, reinforced housing discrimination for more than a decade and influences the neighborhoods we live in today. African American communities, whether urban or rural, have been targeted for industrial complexes and highways. Benton Harbor, Michigan, is the latest example of a community being poisoned by lead in the water. This is not a coincidence; it is the result of systems that don’t value African American lives.

Tulsa wasn’t the only pogrom against a successful African American community in the 20th century. There was also Atlanta (1909), Elaine, Arkansas (1919), Rosewood, Florida (1923), Detroit (1943) and many others. These attacks often used trumped-up accusations about an African American man sexually assaulting white women as justification. Recall that African American women were routinely raped by slaveholders to recognize the brutal irony of those accusations.

Race riots like those in the 1960s, in 1992 after the Rodney King verdict, and last year after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, are destructive and harm many communities regardless of race. But they were not organized attacks on a particular racial group because their communities were thriving and seen as competitors. The root cause of race riots in the US is systemic racism — see the buried Kerner Report, 1968; this isn’t breaking news.

The intent of discussing our shared history and personal experiences is not to make people feel bad about their parents’ or grandparents’ actions or inaction. Just as teaching about the women’s suffrage movement is not intended to make men feel bad. “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Right?

We have made progress. Our country has worked to eliminate racism from the law of the land by passing constitutional amendments to end slavery, and protect civil rights regardless of race. But the work is far from done.

While Bill 81-21 was purposely ambiguous so it could be construed as an anti-discrimination bill, don’t be fooled. Banning discussion of discrimination is yet another example of a policy that has the effect of reinforcing systemic racism. “Silence implies consent.”

Janet Holbrook is a resident of Crownsville and is a member of WISE: Women, Indivisible, Strong, Effective.

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