This week the State Senate finally passed a bill that would allow complaints to be filed against schools still sporting race-based mascot names. If a judge found the complaint to be valid, the school would pay a fine each day until the mascot was changed to something a little less polarizing.
That all seems fairly straightforward to me; after all, what on Earth are we doing still using names like "Redmen" or "Indians" in this day and age (which isn't to say they should have ever been used, but you get my point)?
And yet, passage of the bill was won by a single vote. One Democrat, Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) jumped ship to vote with the Republicans against it. I haven't been able to track down any statements from him as to why he voted the way he did, so I won't even guess.
Republicans, including Sen. Glenn "Brim-Full of Crazy" Grothman (R-West Bend), have made their reasons for opposition known, however. They worried that the bill would open the floodgates to anyone with a bone to pick to file a complaint that would then have to be followed up on, making for a length and expensive process. Some even argued that the mascot names celebrate Native American history and culture.
The former point may end up having some validity, but there will always be people who file needless suits about whatever bee happens to have invaded their bonnet that week. The important thing is that legitimate beefs now have a place to be aired, and a properly adjudicated trial will be held to determine whether or not it has merit. Due process! Sounds like a good idea to me.
The latter point, on the other hand, shows such a breathtaking lack of sensitivity or even awareness of the history of Native American peoples as related to their treatment by federal and state governments that I hardly even know where to begin.
You see, even mascot names like the Warriors or Chiefs, though perhaps well-intentioned, more often than not display a complete misunderstanding of native cultures. Most of these mascots, for instance, tend to rely on the hawk-nosed, big feather headdress wearing image of a native chief or warrior when that image has been traditionally used as a stereotypical, often derisive depiction of native peoples everywhere.
Fact is that those warbonnets were only actually worn by maybe a dozen tribes, mostly centered in the Great Plains region. Native tribes were and remain wildly diverse in their culture, dress, habits, etc. just like any other ethnic or social group across the world. To boil such a large and varied people down to simple stereotype, even when done without intent to harm, does them a great disservice. Though this is a much softer example, it's a little like if we were to say that everyone from Germany goes around in lederhosen all the time.
Not to mention making the assumption that native people were all fierce warriors. Different tribes had different traditions: some were more peaceable than others, for instance.
Consider this bill one very small but very important step toward acknowledging past sins perpetrated against native people and doing everything in our power to see that that cycle is broken. There's still much to be done, but the least Wisconsin can do is see that our children are not raised to think that stereotyping and name-calling are all right. Sometimes what past tradition can teach us is why it was wrong in the first place.
Workplace bullying bill needed, but also needs better language
I imagine that almost anyone who's ever held a job has experienced some form of harassment, from minor to severe, while working. Whether said trouble was inflicted by a disgruntled customer or a vengeful boss, dealing with people pretty much always means dealing with the occasional bad temper or poor personality. It comes with the territory and is therefore something every worker is forced to get used to dealing with appropriately.
However, there are times when the harassment becomes something far more negative than anyone should ever have to confront for the sake of a paycheck.
The personal stories related at a recent hearing discussing a bill "sponsored by state Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, that would require employers to implement and enforce anti-bullying policies - or face their abused employees in court" are good, though often heart-wrenching, examples of those instances.
In a perfect world, it would just be a given that no one, regardless of race, gender, creed, or anything else, should have to deal with discriminatory and/or harmful behavior in the workplace. We wouldn't need to enact laws that specifically spell out anti-discriminatory practices. But we don't live in a perfect world, and unfortunately too many business owners and employees have, in the past and even currently, proven that they can't be trusted to ensure a safe environment for all workers.
And now it's come to this: bullying in general is finally being recognized as the serious problem that it is, both in our schools and our places of business. But what to do about it?
Obviously first and foremost should be education. We need to do a better job of teaching our kids and our peers that negative, abusive behavior toward anyone is never acceptable. We do that by teaching respect for self, which naturally leads to respect for others. We also do that by making sure there are real consequences for disrespect.
The personal stories told at the hearing are just a few examples of why we now must consider legally requiring said consequences on a state-wide level. Clearly, some people and businesses couldn't be bothered to do it on their own.
There have been some concerns about the bill's current language, though. Though I disagree with much of what he writes, Owen over at Boots & Sabers does have a point when he says that the wording of this bill is too vague and invites plain old disgruntled employees to file frivolous lawsuits over demotions or terminations that were actually well-deserved.
I suspect he'd just like to see the issue dropped altogether, but what I'd advocate is a thorough and well-thought out revision of the text in the bill, followed by swift passage. Roys and the bills' other sponsors need to work in language that clarifies who could sue and why, making sure to explicitly lower the possibility of people lodging complaints for being disciplined over shoddy work, etc.
This is too important to mess up, both for the sake of good businesses and those people who've been driven to extremes by bullying.
Tommy "Hemmin' and Hawin'" Thompson is set to speak at Thursday's Tax Day Taxpayer Tea Party rally (say that ten times fast) being held at the State Capitol here in Madison. There's a great deal of speculation that says our former governor will formally announce his long-rumored bid for Russ Feingold's U.S. Senate seat at the event. And more still that says he'll make it clear he's not actually running. Yours truly will be there to see both what Tommy says and what a Madison Tea Party rally looks like. I'll be doing my level best to keep an open mind about the whole thing, but you know I'd be lying if I said previous exposure to the Tea Party movement hasn't had a mostly negative effect on my opinion. I'll do what I can, though.