Black Democrats in the Missouri Senate held the chamber for roughly three hours Wednesday as they condemned a Republican-sponsored bill targeting diversity training and race curriculum.
The debate at times got heated, such as when Democratic Sen. Barbara Washington accused Republican Sen. Rick Brattin of disrespectfully interrupting her during a discussion of the nation’s history and civil rights.
“This is why kids need to learn this,” she said, accusing Brattin of racial and gender bias.
The interruptions continuing and Washington’s irritation mounting, the legislator presiding over the Senate pounded the gavel ordering them to settle.
Because no Black senators serve on the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee, Wednesday’s discussion was the first time this year they were able to bring their perspectives to the bill publicly.
It also happened to be the first day of Black History Month.
“How incidental that we’re talking about this on the first day of Black History Month,” said Sen. Karla May, a St. Louis Democrat. “Why are we trying to prevent educators from teaching anything in regard to Black history?”
The bill, proposed by Republican Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester, seeks to restrict educators from teaching certain concepts, such as “individuals of any race, ethnicity, color, or national origin are inherently superior or inferior.” It also contains “Parent’s Bill of Rights” legislation and would create a transparency portal with teaching materials.
The legislation does not define critical race theory, but the buzzword overwhelmed hearings on the bill.
“Some may say it’s [critical race theory], but really we don’t define it in our bill,” Koenig said Wednesday.
“[Critical race theory] left the universities long ago and has infiltrated the culture ever since.”
Koenig has been asked to define critical race theory during debate, including on the Senate floor Wednesday, but gave examples from his bill instead .
May read a definition of critical race theory Wednesday: “Academic and legal framework that systemic racism is embedded in society.”
She said it is clear that racism is around today.
Koenig’s bill prohibits teachers from placing blame on a collective group or race for the “actions committed in the past by others.”
May told him racism is still happening, so people today must take responsibility.
“If the people today have no ownership over the things that happened yesterday, then why is it still being perpetuated?” she said.
Sen. Brian Williams, a University City Democrat, said something similar as he questioned a provision that fines teachers that violate this bill.
“If there’s going to be a consequence for an educator to force this guilt on a student, then if a student chooses to carry this racist or oppressive attitude from the past forward, there needs to be a consequence for that student,” he said.
After her inquiry with Brattin, Washington read pieces of Missouri history pertaining to slavery, while Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, read news articles that say that critical race theory is not taught in schools.
Washington said she “prepared for this bill for the past year.”
In the face of Democratic resistance, the Senate set the bill aside for the evening.
This story was originally published by the Missouri Independent, part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence.
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