A tone has been set at the Tennessee State Capitol in which racism thrives. Nothing else can explain why a staffer in Senator Diane Black’s office thought it was OK to forward an incredible offensive email to her colleagues.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing is not unusual workplace behavior. Fortunately we, as citizens of Tennessee, have a little power over this specific workplace.
The initial reaction to the incident by some was to call for the staffer’s resignation. Others accepted Senator Black’s reprimand as appropriate. But there’s a third option.
Again, a tone has been set at the Tennessee State Capitol in which racism thrives. Senator Black and her colleagues should take this moment and use it to change the tone. They should make it a teachable moment for Legislative Plaza staffers.
We have a deep well of valuable resources in Tennessee who would, I’m sure, be more than happy to make the trek to the Hill when session is over to hold an open discussion or a workshop or a seminar. Or a week of discussions or workshops or seminars.
Distinguished Vanderbilt University Professor Rev. Jim Lawson, who helped desegregate Nashville’s lunch counters and organized the Freedom Rides, might be a good choice. Or perhaps Nashville resident Tim Wise, who lectures on the pathology of white privilege.
Please urge Senator Black to grab hold of this moment, get creative, and work with other members of the General Assembly to send the message to their staffers that racism – no matter how casual – is not OK.
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