Iowa House Republicans on Tuesday likened concepts like implicit bias and systemic racism to an updated version of Marxism, or class warfare, saying the teaching of the ideas contradicts Iowa’s hope to not “see skin color.”
Before the House advanced along party lines on Tuesday a bill which bars Iowa’s regent universities and K-12 schools from presenting as fact in diversity trainings concepts like implicit bias, systemic racism or white privilege, a lengthy and sometimes shocking debate lasted nearly five hours.
“Divisive concepts” includes but isn’t limited to:
- That one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex.
- That the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist.
- That an individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- That an individual can be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or sex.
- That members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.
- That an individual bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
- That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.
- That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist, or were created by a particular race to press another race.
- Any other form of race or sex scapegoating or any other form of race or sex stereotyping.
Democrats argued the legislation would ultimately harm marginalized students while Republicans likened the concepts to Marxism and said teaching on critical race theory—which evaluates how public policy perpetuates systemic racism—would cultivate a “victim mentality” and contempt for white people in students of color.
“This kind of training is divisive and agitating and is actually discriminatory and racist and sexist in nature,” said Republican Rep. Sandy Salmon. “It provokes hostility and aggression. It actually results in violence and warfare. Marxism has always done that in its history and this version of it will not have different results. It has done and will do the same. We’ve seen it at work in the riots in our cities last summer.”
Democrats, including a number of legislators of color, imparted to the chamber some examples of systemic racism in the state and why concepts like white privilege and implicit bias are accurate terms for educating.
“If we’re not upholding our certain privileges to have conversations about what redlining is and how systemic racism impacts all of our institutions and all of our structures, if we remove that tool from our education system, if we remove that tool to have critical conversation amongst each other outside of this venue, we might by fault remove the opportunity to move our communities, our civilization, or state, our great state forward,” said Rep. Ras Smith, a Black Democrat from Waterloo.
A point of order was called twice as Rep. Salmon called critical race theory “Marxism 2.0,” eventually leading to House Minority Leader Rep. Todd Prichard calling for Democrats to caucus immediately and the House standing at ease.
“Critical theory is simply Marxism that has been updated for the modern day,” Salmon said. “It is Marxism 2.0. What we are prohibiting is simply Marxism 2.0 training in our schools … Under this updated Marxism, the oppressed are to rise up and defeat and destroy the white class, which is the oppressor. So it’s very much the same thing, its just an updated form of Marxism.”
Salmon then said that Iowa is not “fundamentally racist or sexist,” which is why Republicans are pushing to ban these concepts in schools.
“Iowans don’t believe that an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of their race or sex … And that’s what the divisive concepts say and that is what we are prohibiting,” Salmon said.
But when the House reconvened, Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad shared his experience with systemic racism in Iowa. The Des Moines lawmaker said that when he was in junior high, a teacher told him he wouldn’t advance to high school or college and to work in a trade. Years later, Abdul-Samad said he confronted the teacher who admitted he “didn’t think black kids could learn.”
Republican Rep. Skyler Wheeler also said Iowa needs to “take a stand against cultural Marxism,” and questioned why critical race theory doesn’t prop up conservative issues.
“What I have seen in almost every one of these works of critical race theory—voter ID laws are always considered racist. Language is slanted heavily in favor of unions, raising the minimum wage is argued for, and one of the only education solutions proposed is massive increases in funding for public schools. I have yet to see a solution proposed that is slanted towards the conservative views on an issue,” Wheeler said.
“I’ll end with this quote by the very brilliant Ben Shapiro. ‘If you cannot define a problem clearly, you cannot propose a solution. Systemic racism, or institutional racism or implicit racism is a … deliberately vague charge.’”
Republican Rep. Jeff Shipley added said that Marxism is the “correct nomenclature” in describing concepts like systemic racism and implicit bias.
“Those actions have consequences and we’ve seen that played out in the Soviet Union and other places,” he said. “And we need to learn about the consequences of those ideas because this is a runaway train and there’s a lot of angry children who are not really connected to reality because they’re being fed these half-truths, these things that don’t really fully explore the full issues.”
The Fairfield lawmaker’s speech on the floor included his own theories about inequity.
“I want to briefly explore my privilege, what some people would call white privilege,” he said. “I do believe the term white privilege is racist on its face.”
Shipley said that he may not experience privilege because he’s white but because he grew up with a loving father at home.
“I don’t know if my privilege is so much a function of my white skin tone as much as it is just having a loving father,” he said.
“And this is very interesting, because statistically speaking, members of the minority communities, the black and African American communities are less likely to have the presence of a father in the household … There was a prominent African American a couple years ago, met with President Trump, his name was Kanye West. And they had a meeting in the Oval Office and Mr. West discussed that his perception of the Black community, that not having enough fathers in the household was causing a lot of economic disparity.”
Rep. Phyllis Thede, a Black Democrat, spoke after Shipley and shared that she did grow up with a mother and a father and has still experienced the results of systemic racism and implicit bias.
“When I moved from Chicago to Iowa,” she said, “some of the people in the town, they had thoughts that were incorrect. Things like, if you touch the skin of a brown person, it would rub off.”
by Isabella Murray
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