Rasmussen: A problematic Iowa bill is masquerading as a progressive one

Olivia Rasmmussen designed this digital collage through the use of Creative Commons imagery.

Olivia Rasmussen

An Iowa bill, HSB 258, has been proposed to prohibit mandatory student and staff diversity training that includes “divisive concepts” in schools. While this bill seems vague enough to suggest progressive anti-discrimination legislation, those who are behind it might have another thing in mind.

Only two explanations into what “divisive concepts” are and the intent of the bill seems different. The proposal states part of what should be banned in diversity training is “That the United States of America and the state of Iowa are fundamentally racist or sexist,” which implies what the purpose of the bill could actually be: white people not wanting to face the dark history of racism in America and white people wanting to ignore the racism that happens today.

This seems similar to mantras like the misguided “All Lives Matter,” which may appear to be inclusive on the surface but has been morphed into a combative, usually conservative, rebuttal to “Black Lives Matter” by various white people who refuse to address the ongoing racial inequality in the United States.

But who is behind the bill? Iowa Capital Dispatch reports that Rep. Steven Holt is the Republican chairman of the subcommittee. Holt said, “These concepts identified here are so exactly opposite of what our nation stands for.” This statement is interesting coming from Holt, whose wife, Crystal Holt, a high school government teacher, was previously suspended for using the N-word during class. While the school’s investigation of the incident concluded that there wasn’t malicious intent, the Iowa Informer suggests that Crystal and Steven Holt have had a public history of their racist and discriminatory views via social media.

The Des Moines Register recalls the subcommittee meeting for the bill in which Holt said “such training goes against efforts over the past several decades to ‘get to a point where we don’t see skin color. Some of this stuff that’s being taught these days seems to turn that on its head, that by virtue of the individual’s race or sex — if you’re white — you’re automatically this, that or the other thing.’” Holt, saying the quiet part out loud, seems to reiterate that this bill was in fact put in place specifically for white people. Additionally, not seeing skin color or being “color blind” does not solve racism because it doesn’t acknowledge its existence. It’s a lazy and ultimately harmful tactic because it ignores the problems at hand.

“Concepts” like racism and sexism get perpetuated on a daily basis, and it is a very real part of America’s past and present. Holt believes those concepts aren’t what our nation stands for but has previously thrown his support behind the proud white nationalist Steve King, who has publicly stated his confusion behind people getting offended by terms like “white nationalist” and “white supremacist.” Holt’s previous endorsement said King has been “highly effective in promoting our conservative values.”

The bill has other suspect supporters too. The Sioux City Journal states that self-proclaimed “Family Advocate” from the Family Leader Foundation Danny Carroll, a white man, says that “Iowa does not have racism. We’ve got some conflict. But there’s no reason why our institutions of higher learning and public schools can’t consider both sides of these issues without fear of reprisal.” “Both sides of these issues” could insinuate, again, that this bill was proposed to comfort racist white people from suffering any consequences or guilt when sharing their hateful views.

Sections 4, 5 and 8 of the bill dive further into what “divisive concepts” are, which include “That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s 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 any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”

A quick keyword search of the Family Leader Foundation’s tweets proves the bill seems to be part of a rouse to push a different agenda than what is presented to the public. Apparently, these “anti-discriminatory” efforts aren’t applicable to marginalized groups like the transgender community, a community that is often showered with discrimination, disrespect, discomfort and psychological distress based on their sex and/or gender identity. This hypocritical discovery poses the already-answered question again, “Who is this bill for?”

Little Village Magazine reports that supporters of the bill “are concerned that if the legislature doesn’t limit how schools and universities attempt to foster diversity and inclusion, straight white people will face discrimination.” The unavailing fear of diversity from people who are part of the majority and haven’t ever had to fight for their basic human rights (white, straight people) acting like victims is pathetically humorous.

The bill, coming from alleged First Amendment champions, is rich in irony. It’s a common theme touted by a portion of the right that free speech is imperative but only if it’s about topics that support their points of view and alternative realities. Using deceit to trick people into supporting a bill like this seems unpatriotic. This is clearly a problematic bill masquerading as a progressive one.