For the past several years, the Colorado Black and Latina/o legislative caucuses have steadily worked on an agenda to deal with the racial/ethnic/sex disparities in our society. We have addressed: disparities in education; lack of affordable health care or unequal access to health care; higher unemployment rates; small business support and creation; minority business disparities; disparities within the criminal justice system; police abuse; and the ever growing wage/wealth gap. As we address these issues, we remain mindful that our communities will be the majority-minority population in Colorado and in the nation within the next two decades, if not sooner. We feel Colorado should lead on the conversation of race and not ignore it like the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, with every bill we introduce we receive enormous criticism. We are reminded that racism and sexism are alive and well in Colorado. Our caucus members are called racist and sexist names, we are stereotyped, minimized and we receive death threats every session. This disgusting display of ignorance by some members of our society does not shock us but, in fact, it is sad to say the behavior is anticipated.
This opinion editorial, however, is not intended to engender sympathy for our “plight” or to feel sorry for ourselves. We know what we are up against. Instead, these comments are intended to follow up on recent events occurring in the various presidential campaigns.
A speech given by Hillary Clinton addressed white Americans about coming to terms with their fear of non-whites, particularly Black males. Our communities have been saying the same thing for generations. Some white Americans are just petrified of communities of color. We see the fear every time our Republican colleagues introduce “Make My Day Better” legislation or similar bills that give people a legal defense to use deadly force on any individual they “believe” may be committing a crime. With the dramatic increase in mistaken identity shootings of Black and Latino community members, why would we agree to such asinine legislation?
This fear is demonstrated in the epidemic of recorded police abuses and shootings storming through social media. This fear is evident in the mass killing of Black church members by a racist young man. The fear is found in Donald Trump’s daily comments wherein he blames the woes of our country on immigrants, particularly focusing on the Mexican immigrants, which fuels the fire of prejudice – the irony being that all white Americans are here by virtue of immigration and not all came here “legally.” His supporters recently beat a Hispanic homeless man and excused their behavior by invoking the “Trump is right” defense. The fear is evident in Black women being booted from a Napa Valley tour train for being “too loud.” God forbid anyone should have fun on a wine tour train. This fear also is evident in the Colorado legislature where our Republican colleagues are constantly criticizing and voting against bills that would help our communities achieve equality.
For whatever reason, white Americans are fearful of communities of color. Fighting for equality is nothing to fear. Ensuring our communities have a fair and equal shake at the American Dream should not result in death. While it is true that our communities are more impoverished and suffer from higher crime rates than most other communities, the history of the United States demonstrates that systems were put in place to perpetuate this poverty in our communities. As state legislators, we have diligently worked to dismantle the systemic racism affecting all Coloradans.
We have been saying it all along. White Americans must come to grips with their history of prejudice for the sake of moving our country forward together.
Representative Jovan Melton represents Colorado House District 41
Representative Joe Salazar represents Colorado House District 31