Scott Allen sparked a heated debate after introducing a Black History Month resolution that would honor 10 Wisconsinites, most of whom are white.
Allen’s reasoning being that since those white citizens helped enslaved Black people get to freedom via the Underground Railroad they deserved as much recognition as anyone else.
This initiative was drafted without any input from the state legislature’s African-American members, and quickly drew ire from Democratic lawmakers who accused Allen of attempting to whitewash the one month specifically designated to celebrate Black history and Black people.
Sen. Lena Taylor, who is currently running for mayor of Milwaukee, and is flustered over the bill compared Allen to a slave owner.
“Thank you Massa Allen for pickin’ whose we should honuh suh,” Taylor sarcastically wrote to the congressman in an email last month. “We sho ain’t capable of thinkin’ fo ourselves, suh.”
Now state lawmakers are trying to diffuse the situation before it becomes more contentious. Democratic Rep. Kalan Haywood, who is Black and represents Milwaukee and Rep. Scott Allen, a white Republican representing Waukesha met last week to try to find a solution.
“I came here to figure out how to defuse this bomb before it goes off and we make national news in February,” Haywood told Allen during their meeting according to the Journal Sentinel. But he was the only Black legislator who agreed to show up at the meeting.
“We’re trying to come together and have a meaningful dialogue and conversation … whether it’s possible, time will tell. I’m going to keep aiming for it,” said Allen. “If we can’t come together on the Black History Month resolution how are we going to tackle the big issues?”
What makes Allen’s resolution particularly surprising to some is the fact that he is married to a Black woman and yet still remains oblivious about why there is so much pushback.
Still, Black politicians in the Wisconsin legislature are flustered because they see the matter of not having control of the process as insulting.
“The same way that we would not expect to have insight and control over who is being honored for Italian History Month or German History Month, we would respect the German lawmakers in the Legislature, the Italian lawmakers in the Legislature, and we would allow them to lead on that,” said Rep. David Bowen of Milwaukee, who is Black. “Quite frankly, it is pretty disrespectful.”
With Black History Month beginning in less than two weeks, politicians still want to avoid embarrassment for the state before it blows up into the national spotlight.
“We’re trying to come together and have a meaningful dialogue and conversation,” Allen said, admitting, “whether it’s possible, time will tell.”