Friday, February 26, 2010

State Senate Needs to Pass Race-Based Mascot Bill

This week the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill that would provide an opportunity for local communities to challenge race-based mascots.

When the Assembly held a hearing on the bill back in March 2009, we blogged about why we testified in support of the bill. And when the Senate also heard an overwhelming number of supportive testimonies, we tweeted live from the hearing. The ACLU of Wisconsin supports this bill because fundamentally this issue is not about the constitutionally protected free speech of students: this bill is about ending the governmental endorsement of discrimination.

We pointed out that nearly 40 public school districts across Wisconsin continue to use nicknames, mascots and logos for their sports teams that are based on race or ethnicity. Nicknames, like Chiefs or Chieftains, Indians, Red Raiders, Redman, and Warhawks, and school-approved mascots and logos have been a common feature at sporting and pep events attended by generations of enthusiastic students.

But this legislation needs to be passed in 2010 because all public schools in Wisconsin are required to provide all students with an adequate, nondiscriminatory education. Race-based nicknames, logos and mascots are inherently discriminatory and shouldn’t be endorsed by a public school.

The legislation is also needed because there should be an opportunity for a fair and adequate process for the Department of Public Instruction to review complaints from community members about race-based mascots. The government is responsible for addressing discriminatory practices such as the use of race-based mascots and the Department of Public Instruction is the appropriate agency to mediate local conflict resolution.

Votes on this issue in the Assembly were unusually not split along party lines. Democrats Jorgensen, Krusick, Ziegelbauer and Zigmunt joined mostly Republicans in voting against the bill. Republicans Brooks, Montgomery, Mursau, Rhodes and Van Roy voted in favor of AB 35. We remember how Rep. Rhodes introduced a group of youth from her district who spoke passionately in favor of the bill and what it would do for student equality. It was a great moment for the positive power of student speech for justice.

Now the bill’s future lies in the Senate. The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the Senate and majority leader Decker to have a floor vote as soon as possible.