North Dakota Representative Terry Jones of New Town recently noted that Black communities are “glad their ancestors were brought here as slaves.” His understanding of the Black community, as well as slavery, is alarmingly ignorant. The statement probably ranks as one of the most racist public comments ever made by a North Dakota legislator.
Jones followed this up by introducing a bill requiring state agencies, when collecting demographic data, to list “American” as the first option in the category of self-identified racial classifications.
Asking us to identify simply as “American,” is asking us to ignore and purposefully not name systems of racial classification that have oppressed communities of color since the birth of the nation. Calls for us to put aside our differences and identify as “Americans” first are reminiscent of calls for “unity” from the Republican party following the January 6th insurrection. Instead of naming and addressing the harms caused by violent sedition, slavery, racism, and racial classification, Republicans want us to just move on and wipe the slate clean. Focus on “unity” for the country, and identify as “American” above all else.
This is not the way forward. It is our duty, as Americans, to address the harms perpetrated against communities of color by slavery and white supremacy. HB 1333 sweeps under the rug the centuries of structural racism and discrimination that are baked into our categories of racial classification. This is purposeful. By pretending to be color blind, we will be hurting Black Americans, Native Americans, and others of color.
Additionally, implementing a new and useless demographic category will be a data-collection nightmare for already resource-strapped state agencies and their partners.
Anti-racism is the only way forward, not erasing our differences. To be anti-racist, we must swiftly and decisively shut down racist policies like those introduced by Representative Jones, and to continue to reflect on our own biases.
North Dakota Human Rights Coalition