The Wisconsin Legislature voted on Tuesday to approve a resolution to honor key historical figures for Black History Month. The catch is that the original resolution—drafted by the Legislature’s Black Caucus, which is composed exclusively of Democrats—featured Milwaukee-born football player Colin Kaepernick, an inclusion that immediately drew the ire of the Republican lawmakers.
The original resolution was proposed to honor various black men and women who had positively impacted the state of Wisconsin. Other figures chosen by the Black Caucus include former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige, and Milwaukee Pastor Greg Lewis (who also was removed from the GOP’s counter-proposal, due to critiques of Republican-backed voter ID laws in the state; he was eventually added back in for the final, approved version).
Representative LaKeshia Myers, a Democrat in the Black Caucus, said Kaepernick embodied the spirit of the resolution for both his work nationally and his connection to the state; aside from being born in Milwaukee, Kaepernick also donated $25,000 for Milwaukee non-profit Urban Underground.
Myers acknowledged that the inclusion of Kaepernick could be a sticking point, but she believed, as many do, that the quarterback’s police brutality protests are part of the process for progress in the United States. Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
He decided to take on ownership of a problem that he saw, which was police brutality, and the fact that we hope everyone in this room recognizes that black lives are important and yes, they do matter. Whether you dislike the method that he used, understand that it is a part of America’s DNA, not just African-Americans. Protest. The personal ability to show one’s dissent.
Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke, who is both white and a Republican, would only tell reporters on Tuesday that Kaepernick was kept off of the Republican counter-resolution “for obvious reasons,” and went on to say that the former Niners quarterback is “obviously a controversial figure.” Steineke is a bit of a controversial figure himself, as he was arrested in 2002 for drunk driving and was convicted of a hit-and-run in 1991. When he was asked about those incidents in 2011, he told a reporter, “I don’t care what people think.”
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos was a little more specific about his reasons for wanting to remove Kaepernick, who he described as a dividing force:
I think it’s important to recognize the contributions of literally thousands and thousands of African-Americans to our state’s history but also trying to find people who, again, bring us together. Not look at people who draw some sort of vitriol from either side.
The failure of Steineke and his fellow Republicans is the same failure of anyone who has ever tried to castigate Kaepernick for being “divisive.” The entire point of his protest was to be divisive, to make people uncomfortable and think about who they are and what they care about and what side they want to be on. The history of racial progress in the United States is littered with figures that could have been described, as Steineke put it, “obviously controversial.” It’s the obviously controversial people who do the most to force necessary progress upon the rest of us.
By excluding Kaepernick—who has a real connection to Wisconsin—the Wisconsin GOP (there are no black Republican members of the state’s Legislature) has white-washed the history of its own state and of its own constituents. Then again, perhaps that’s the point.