Home Editorials Tennessee Republican legislators appear appalled when labeled racists

Tennessee Republican legislators appear appalled when labeled racists

by William T. Robinson, Jr
William T. Robinson, Jr.

The saga continues in the Tennessee General Assembly as blatant signs of racism surface with a super-majority, Republican legislature flexing its power. The irony is that some of the most vocal Republicans demonstrating or manifesting racist actions or behaviors appear appalled when called out. Such is the recent case when Justin Jones, a Democrat, was lambasted by Cameron Sexton, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representative, when Jones made a disparaging remark against a fellow lawmaker whom Jones said threatened him.

You would have thought that was the most unacceptable and provocative action that could have ever taken place in the General Assembly—one  jokingly known to adhere to ‘high degrees of decorum.’ Some might refer to Republicans as ‘racist,’ based on their actions or statements. Well, if the shoe fits wear it. In fact, it could be considered a euphemism when compared to what really could be said.

Many Black legislators are quick to say that the atmosphere in the General Assembly is very icy, isolating, and discriminatory. It seems as long as some White Republicans are conveying their wishes or concerns, it is okay. But too often when a Black legislator is trying to convey the wishes of their constituents, they are denied access to speakers or ignored all together. This practice has been voiced so many times, it must be common practice. At the very least, it borders on discrimination and racism.

It is well noted that when Black legislators are not adhering to the established program initiated by a designated group of White Republicans, actions will be induced to put them in their place. It is not just action within the Tennessee General Assembly that screams racism; it is the legislation forced upon Black communities and institutions (such as Tennessee State University) that borders on disdain for non-White communities and entities.

All one has to do is ask honestly if the legislative, Republican super-majority would attack UT (University of Tennessee) or MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University) with such intensity or fervor. The Tennessee state legislature was found guilty of syphoning billions of dollars from TSU’s coffers, but they seemed to have left UT and MTSU unscathed. And unlike TSU, UT and MTSU were not denigrated nor found to be “incompetent.” The truth lies within. I dare you to tell the truth and shame the devil.

How can some White, Tennessee Republican lawmakers feel “misrepresented or appalled” when their actions speak for themselves? Their insensitivity and apathy for the wishes of their Black and Brown (and many of their White constituents) are unparalleled. They claim to be advocating for justice and equality, but for whom?

While racism is characterized by showing prejudice, antagonism, or discrimination against a race or ethnicity as with a minority or marginalized group—one may differ in one’s definition or practice of racism.  Many Blacks would argue that it is impossible for them to be racist because they don’t have the power or means to keep anyone from attaining anything. Therefore, defining a true racist would entail being a person or group able to deny another race the opportunities, privileges or benefits they personally enjoy as a race.

The Tennessee state Republican-led legislature is becoming nationally associated as a racist body, whether they like it or not. Their actions speak volumes, and there is no amount of rationalizing that can justify what is plain to see. Unfortunately, their actions are planting a dark shadow over Tennessee. It is likely to come back to bite the state socially and economically. We live in a diverse and changing multicultural, pluralistic world. The state Republican majority legislature must adapt or be voted out. 

Companies and transplants moving to Tennessee don’t want to be associated with or described as living in a racist state. If some Tennessee state lawmakers are offended by being labeled as racists, then they should prove otherwise. Called-out legislators shouldn’t take offense with people adhering to the adage that says: ‘If it looks like a duck and quakes like a duck, it must be a duck.’

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