Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his Republican colleagues in the state Assembly aren’t faring too well in the national conversation about whether white guys should be able to dictate who we celebrate during February’s Black History Month.
Several national commentators have weighed in on the Assembly leadership’s refusal to include ex San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick in a resolution recognizing several African-Americans from Wisconsin for what they contributed to black history. Kaepernick, who spent his early years in Wisconsin, was vilified by the likes of Donald Trump, NFL team owners and thousands of white football fans for kneeling when the national anthem was played.
The Legislative Black Caucus had authored the resolution, pointing out that Kaepernick sacrificed his football career to make a point about the lack of justice for many African-
American males. Kaepernick began taking a knee at the time when several police officers were accused of killing unarmed blacks on city streets across the country.
Kaepernick stressed more than once that he wasn’t disrespecting the flag by kneeling, but rather, he was protesting in the most public way he could the injustice done to black people. His actions got him black-balled by NFL owners.
After a brief outcry here in Wisconsin, Vos, not a favorite of the Wisconsin black community, defended his party’s action.
“I think it’s important,” he said, “to recognize the contributions of literally thousands and thousands of African-
Americans to our state’s history but also trying to find people who … bring us together. Not look at people who draw some sort of vitriol from either side.”
Others, including Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, claimed the Republicans objected to Kaepernick “for obvious reasons” and then went on to say that the former quarterback is “obviously a controversial figure.” The story soon was the topic of many national columns; some questioned the propriety of an all-white legislative majority deciding who black lawmakers ought or ought not to honor.
The best of them all was written by nationally syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, an
He was particularly upset by Vos’ remarks that we need to honor people who “bring us together.”
“I keep hearing that I have an obligation to ‘bring us together,’ that’s something white people tell me all the time whenever I write something that cuts too close to some difficult racial truth,” he said. “Why don’t you journalists work to bring us together?”
“I’d be willing to bet nobody ever says that to George F. Will, Kathleen Parker or any of my Caucasian colleagues,” he noted.
As to Steineke’s assertion that Kaepernick is too controversial, Pitts offered this rejoinder:
“It should go without saying (but probably doesn’t) that that criticism could be and had been made of every African-
American who ever agitated for justice. From Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman to Marcus Garvey to W.E.B. DuBois to Rosa Parks to Malcolm X to Diane Nash to Fannie Lou Hamer to Jesse Jackson to Al Sharpton to (Dr. Martin Luther) King himself, there has never been a black leader who white people — too many of them, at least — did not find ‘controversial.’ It is only years afterward, once you are safely dead, that they build monuments, rename streets and say what a great person you were. But, while you are alive and challenging the status quo, they hate you.”
But he offered faint recognition to Vos, et al, who once again have managed to embarrass the state.
“So the high-handed paternalism of these white Wisconsin lawmakers is galling and offensive, yet nothing we haven’t seen before — a superfluous example of white people presuming to dictate the terms of black protest so as to make it more comfortable for them,” Pitts added.
He insisted that Kaepernick, for example, has no special responsibility to “bring us together.” To fight for human rights is by definition to draw lines and create separation.
“You do not ask right to ‘come together’ with wrong,” he concludes.
Perhaps it is up to Robin Vos and his cohort to start coming together and speaking the truth, instead of continuing with their false narrative of what the Colin Kaepernick protests were all about.