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Tennessee is a microcosm of increasingly aggressive racism in America

In Mississippi, a state with a 40 percent Black population, the governor declared April as Confederate Legacy Month. The toxic venom of racism permeating the veins of our nation becomes more conspicuous every passing day.

That’s why in Tennessee, a state fraught with racist history and a Capitol that just recently removed a bust of the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, the state legislature’s vote to expel two Black lawmakers but exonerate a third protester, a white woman, was par for the course.

Representative Gloria Johnson of Knoxville was spared, but her two freshmen Democratic colleagues, Justin Jones of Nashville and Justin Pearson of Memphis, were expelled, and endured the most severe penalty possible, for leading the same “disorderly” gun reform chants that briefly disrupted House proceedings.

The vocal protest occurred three days after three 9-year-olds and three adults were murdered at The Covenant School in Nashville.

Democratic Representative Sam McKenzie of Knoxville, chairman of the Tennessee Black Caucus of State Legislatures, spoke to Knox News late Thursday night (April 6) after the vote. He was beat up, tired out, worn down.

“This is a sad day for the state of Tennessee because I think what happened is the spotlight of what we’ve been enduring was exposed to the nation, really to the world,” he said. “There’s just been a systemic push, a steady drum beat of marginalization both as a Democrat and then, as you see today, as a Black man.”

Tennessee is a state where lawmakers want to thwart efforts to honor John Lewis and instead recognize Donald Trump. This is the state where GOP Representative Paul Sherrell suggests using lynching as a form of execution.

The truth is there is a national assault on Black, Indigenous and people of color throughout the U.S. Women’s rights are being obliterated by an uncaring power structure. The oppression extends into the gay and transgender population. Political ideology and blatant racism have fused into an element of oppression not seen since the Jim Crow Era.

Before he was ousted, Tennessee lawmaker Justin Jones drew a parallel between what he called the state’s “dark, dark history” and what Republican lawmakers did in voting his ouster.

“What you’re really showing for the world is holding up a mirror to a state that is going back to some dark, dark roots,” he said.

“A state in which the Ku Klux Klan was founded is now attempting another power grab by silencing two of the youngest Black representatives and one of the only Democratic women in this body. That’s what this is about, let us be real today.”

“What we saw yesterday in Tennessee was an attack on democracy and very overt racism, as you can see the two youngest Black lawmakers were kicked out, but our colleague, my dear sister Gloria Johnson, a white woman, was not,” Jones said. “We see clearly, the nation has seen clearly, what is going on in Tennessee.

“This is what we’ve been challenging all session, was a very toxic, racist work environment where we are not even allowed to speak,” he continued.

“That’s why we went to the well because the Speaker wouldn’t call on us (and) he turned off our microphones. He ruled us out of order any time we brought up the issue of gun violence. When I went outside to support the protesters, he turned off my voting machine so I couldn’t even cast a vote on the House floor.

“This is what we’ve dealt with all session, and yesterday the nation was able to see that we don’t have democracy in Tennessee, particularly when it comes to Black and brown communities.”

Don’t be misled. Tennessee is a mere microcosm of racism and bigotry throughout the south and in other stretches of this nation in both overt and subtle ways. The Cold War of Racism is underway, but there will be no easy submission. The more Americans confront, the harder they will fight. This is just the beginning.

Vernon A. Williams
Vernon A. Williams

CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].

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