Monday, March 14, 2011

The More Things Change…Oklahoma Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 15

     I am an African American woman. My mother was an African American woman, as was her mother and grandmother before her. One day my granddaughters will be African American women. Like my mother and my grandmothers, my hope is that it will not be necessary for my granddaughters to navigate around and over the barriers that I have encountered in my 59 years—the sexism, the racism, the contempt, the disrespect, the bias. I too have a dream that one day my grandchildren will be judged solely on their abilities and character--not by the color of their skin.

     Unfortunately ultra conservative members of the Oklahoma Legislature and their cronies (i.e., the American Civil Rights Institute) have a different dream. Their self-serving greed is the cornerstone of a plan to rollback almost 50 years of advancements for women and people of color. Although it sounds quite innocuous, Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 15 opens the door to many of the blatant evils of the past. To add insult to injury the bill’s author, Senator Rob Johnson, does not lament about “reverse discrimination” like many of his forerunners. Instead, in an attempt to hoodwink respectable Oklahomans into supporting the proposed insidious referendum; Senator Johnson “fondly” quotes the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.!

     Last week Senate Republicans adopted SJR 15 and forwarded the bill to the House. I am pleased that the 15 Democrats in the chamber that day voted against the dreadful proposal. If the legislative referendum passes the House, Oklahoma citizens will vote to “prohibit discrimination based on race or sex”—which at face value sounds quite appealing. However, the intent of the proposed state question is to limit State of Oklahoma contracting opportunities for minority and women business owners. If the proposal becomes law, state governmental agencies will no longer be required to hire women and people of color. Looking through Senator Johnson’s colorblind (I see no color) glasses, minority and female students wishing to enroll in certain fields of study at our major universities may not stand a chance. No doubt, a sizable number of women and minority owned businesses will be adversely affected. Since the passage of California’s similar legislation--Proposition 209--two-thirds of minority and women owned businesses have failed!

     As an African American there are two phrases that make the hair at the nape of my neck stand on edge —“I don’t see color” and “Funny, you don’t sound black.” If you don’t see color, you don’t see me. If I don’t sound black, it’s because sounding black is part of your bias—not mine. If it upsets you or you don’t think that it is fair that women and people of color receive between two and 5% of state contracting opportunities, your bias is blatantly showing. Perhaps I am also biased; but when I think of all the cruelty and indifference that women and minorities have endured for centuries and are slowly overcoming, a hand-up seems mighty reasonable!

     The real tragedy of SJR 15 is that like so many of the bills proposed by the Oklahoma Legislature, its primary goal is to infuse more fear and loathing in the hearts and minds of Oklahoma citizens. In 2010 our Legislature loaded up the ballot with English only, Sharia Law, Voter ID, and negating the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 for Oklahomans. An unassuming person might deduce that there would be nothing left for the 2012 ballot. On the contrary, we can expect more hate-baiting and fear-breeding legislation, carefully crafted innuendos, and partisan doublespeak between now and the November 2012 elections. Senator Ron Johnson and his cronies may even start quoting President John F. Kennedy and the wording of Executive Order 10925 or other iconic civil rights advocates to bamboozle and befuddle. After all, its one of the oldest tricks in the political grab bag.

     It is up to reasonable Oklahomans—black, brown, white, yellow, male, female, young, and old—to stand up, stand together, and lift our voices loud and long enough to capture the attention of the Oklahoma legislators who are determined to permeate our State Constitution with insensitive and egregious language one state question at a time. Enough is enough. Call your legislators today and let them know that you are opposed to SJR 15 and any other attempts to advance similar legislation. Contact your ministers and other religious leaders. Contact the leadership of your Masonic and fraternal organizations. This is an issue affecting all of us; it is not a political campaign. This is a public policy issue and there is no restriction on charitable and religious organizations or other 501(c)3 organizations standing up for what is right and speaking out against this travesty.

     It is sad and telling that those who grumble the loudest about affirmative action have launched this attack on the 50th anniversary of President Kennedy’s attempt to end racial disparities. In her autobiography (Crusade for Justice, 1928) civil rights advocate Ida B. Wells-Barnett begins the final chapter with these words, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." She cautions that although the United States has some "wonderful institutions" to protect our liberty, we have grown complacent and need to be "alert as the watchman on the wall." There is no disputing, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

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