When Freida High W. Tesfagiorgis saw a state lawmaker's plan to make sex offenders display bright green license plates with red and black lettering, possibly for the rest of their lives, she was appalled.
What upset Tesfagiorgis was not the call to further stigmatize and possibly endanger offenders, for perhaps no public safety gain. Rather, the UW-Madison professor of Afro-American studies objected to the color scheme.
The bill, proposed by State Rep. Joel Kleefisch, would assign these distinctive plates to certain kinds of sex offenders. Kleefisch has said he picked the color green "because many children have learned to stay away from Mr. Yuck."
But Tesfagiorgis, in an e-mail to Kleefisch, said the use of these colors "is deeply embedded in African American history and culture." They are linked to "important political developments during the New Negro Era, particularly African American nationalism and Pan-Africanism led by Marcus Garvey." They also appear in Kwanzaa celebrations and in awards given to African American children.
"Given the history and cultural meanings of the Red-Black-Green color scheme, your proposed bill...is an offense to African American populations nationwide."
Rep. Kleefisch responded positively, scheduling a meeting with Tesfagiorgis. Repeated efforts to interview Kleefisch were fruitless, but an aide says he considers the professor's concern highly relevant and is eager to address it. "Obviously," the aide assures, "we don't want to offend anybody."