Last summer, during the height of racial justice protests across the Hoosier state and elsewhere in the nation, Gov. Eric Holcomb addressed the concerns of those marching in the streets.
“We are looking for ways where there is common ground, where we can make advancement,” he said after a weekend of protests in Indianapolis. He also said the “collective conscience” of the Legislature had been awakened.
Apparently, it’s fallen asleep again.
Last month, Indiana lawmakers turned into boo birds, shouting down their counterparts who voiced concern about possible racial motivations behind a school redistricting measure in South Bend.
That such boorish behavior occurred on the very day Black lawmakers wore traditional African dress in honor of Black History Month only seared the insult into infamy.
To be expected, the dustup made national headlines; it was reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today and many other media outlets.
Details of the disrespect — some lawmakers nearly came to blows in Statehouse hallways and bathrooms — made for irresistible reading in a nation torn by racism.
It was reported that tension had risen during debate over the redistricting bill, after Black legislators cautioned it could be discriminatory. Rather than consider the possibility, many of their counterparts became defensive. As tensions flared, representatives stopped listening to one another, instead talking over each other.
Lost in the shouting were the voices of Statehouse members who have personally encountered racism, overt and nuanced. That alone should have prompted their colleagues to listen, even more so if that perspective were foreign.
The need for diversity training is evident. Every freshman lawmaker should be required to undergo such training before engaging in the people’s business. And the training mustn’t be a one-off workshop; refresher courses should be routine for all who serve, to guard against regression.
Other officeholders need diversity education, too.
A recent example occurred in Michigan City, where the mayor is under fire for racially insensitive remarks he left on a voicemail, after he thought the call had ended. The city council wants him to resign, but the mayor says he won’t quit. He has apologized to those he targeted, and is undergoing counseling at his own expense, the Associated Press reported. He also is seeking diversity training for all city employees.
We see that as a positive, but it shouldn’t hinge on the occurrence of a negative. Diversity training should be standard in conference rooms and council chambers, at the Statehouse and in your house.
Understanding our implicit biases can help us overcome them.
The News and Tribune