DES MOINES, Iowa – On Tuesday evening, the Iowa House passed HF 802, a bill that would prohibit racial and sex stereotyping in diversity training held at Iowa’s public schools, community colleges, and Regent universities. The bill passed 59 to 38 after three-and-a-half hours of debate.
The bill prohibits “race and sex stereotyping” in diversity training, defined as:
- Ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, status, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex.
- Assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex, or claiming that, consciously or unconsciously, and by virtue of persons’ race or sex, members of any race are inherently racist or are inherently inclined to oppress others, or that members of a sex are inherently sexist or inclined to oppress others.
The bill prohibits explicitly prohibits the “divisive concepts” from diversity training unless their discussion is required for context.
- That one race or sex is inherently better than another race or sex.
- That the United States or the state of Iowa is fundamentally racist or sexist
- By virtue of the individual’s race or sex, an individual is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.
- That an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of the individual’s race or sex
- That members of one race or sex cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race or sex.
- That an individual’s race or sex necessarily determines an individual’s moral character.
- By virtue of their race or sex, an individual bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.
- That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress because of that individual’s race or sex
- That meritocracy or traits such as a hard work ethic are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.
State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, said that he appreciated the discussion that the bill started as it is one that the Iowa House of Representatives usually doesn’t have. He believed that the legislation restricts his freedom.
“It takes away my freedom to be able to hear those, that other side. To hear individuals that have that so I can confront the different issues that are there because I’ve had to deal with that divisiveness for over 50 some years. And I want to hear that side because I can’t correct that side if I don’t hear that side,” he said.
Ako-Samad said the bill is taking Iowans backward, comparing the legislation to moonwalking.
State Rep. Henry Stone, R-Forest City, who was born in Korea to a Korean mother, said the problem isn’t diversity training but how it is taught.
“I’ve been called by a blogger to apologize because they left me out of all the new ethnic freshmen that have been elected. And why? It’s because people just look at me and assume that I’m white. Assume that I’m Caucasian without ever even asking me. There’s a member of this body that has called me racist. I’ve never said two words to her, and I’ve been called a racist,” he argued.
“I wholeheartedly support this bill because I believe that diversity training should still go on, but we need to change the way that it’s taught,” Stone added.
State Rep. Christina Bohannan, D-Iowa City, opposed the bill.
“I think that this bill undermines our credibility on free speech issues makes us look like we only care about one side of free speech,” she said.
Bohannan found it odd that topics like these are allowed in the classroom but not during diversity training. She also said that concepts like implicit bias need to be addressed during training, and this legislation could prevent that from happening.
She also said that bills like this hurt Iowa’s image in the business community and keep young professionals from moving to the state.
State Rep. Ross Wilburn, D-Ames, said he is concerned that prohibiting divisive topics prevents trainers from being able to address them “planfully” and said just having to react and respond is when “things can get out of hand.”
He pointed out that Regent universities had different reactions to the language of the bill. One continued with training, and another “pulled the plug.”
State Rep. Jeff Shipley, R-Birmingham, said that he believes he is privileged as an American but thinks the term “white privilege” is racist.
“I do believe the term white privilege is racist on its face. I believe when the term white privilege is used, that does judge me based on the color of my skin, just as Dr. Martin Luther King advised people not to do. So it is a term that I think it’s just very incomplete and woefully inadequate to accurately describe what we’re seeing in society,” he said.
“I’ve had a very privileged life, and I’m extremely privileged to be here in this chamber. But when looking back, you know, there are things beyond my skin, things that go deeper than my skin tone,” Shipley added, noting he grew up in a loving, intact family with a present father.
“So I don’t know if my privilege is so much a function of my white skin tone as much as it is just having a loving father, someone who is present in the home, to be with me through those experiences. And this is very interesting because statistically speaking, members of the minority communities, the black and African American communities, are less likely to have the presence of a father in the household,” he stated.
Shipley claimed that many of the Black Lives Matter protestors, which he called rioters, who came to the Capitol Building were uninterested in speaking with him even though he introduced several bills dealing with issues that affect people of color disproportionately.
State Rep. Phyllis Thede, D-Davenport, addressing Shipley’s remarks, said that she to grew up in an intact home with a mother and father and was privileged to do so.
She pointed out, however, that as an African-American, her experiences were different than his.
“You will never understand implicit bias until you walk in my shoes. You will never understand systematic racism until you walk in my shoes. You will never understand racial profiling until you walk in my shoes. I understand all of these terms because I have experienced them. I have experienced them on a regular basis. We must talk about these terms in order for us to learn and grow. Without this discussion, we are stuck,” Thede said.
State Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, addressing Shipley, claimed the city didn’t have riots last summer.
“We didn’t have riots in Des Moines last summer. I know what a riot looks like because I graduated from high school in 1969. And there were some riots in Des Moines at that time. These weren’t riots,” she said.
State Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, supported the bill.
“When we tell white kids that they’re too smart. And we tell black kids that they’re not smart enough. We’re creating divisive concepts. And I think what this bill does is give us the opportunity to take a look at what we should be considering through the eyes of how our kids are born and how they feel,” she said.
“I rise in support of this bill, because I think that’s what this bill does. It brings us back to the basics. Should we talk about issues? Of course, we should always have respectful dialogue. We shouldn’t be afraid to talk to one another. And say that our lives were a little bit different. But some of these concepts that we see in this bill are really teaching kids how to look at things in a different lens that maybe really isn’t appropriate,” she added.
State Rep. Mark Cisneros, R-Muscatine, a Hispanic freshman legislator, addressed some problems with Critical Race Theory.
“This idea and concept of critical race theory is (sic) very well established where I come from. Being here, I’ve learned that words are important; reading all the bills, making sure that the intent that we have is there. So when you hear words like offensive, systemic racism, minority, sexism, implicit bias, those words to me are, I understand those words as sin, just simply that – sin,” he said.
“There’s nothing inclusive in the critical race theory. And implicit bias, in my definition, is an attempt at policing thought. How do you defend against that? There’s an element of this critical race theory that we haven’t touched on, I don’t think too much; that is victimhood. You don’t have to tell a child or a young person that someone is better than you. All you have to do is tell them over and over that they are victims of everything and everyone around them. And when they act out in that victimhood, which is, again, in my definition, living in unforgiveness. When they act out in that victimhood, and they are encouraged to do so that there is (sic) no consequences for their actions because they are victims,” he added.
State Rep. Steve Holt, R-Denison, the bill’s floor manager, said this discussion was the best he had ever had or heard on any bill and that he learned a lot.
“There’s nothing in this bill that would stop diversity training from being taught, history being taught, even implicit bias and all of these other things being taught,” he said, encouraging his colleagues to review the bill again.
Holt said prohibiting divisive concepts mentioned in the bill does not stop the discussion of issues raised by his colleagues. He didn’t think those concepts help people celebrate differences either.
He claimed that the concepts prohibited by the bill stifle discussion.
“I think it’s impossible to have a civil, fact-based discussion about a topic such as race when the rules of the discussion are set by the institutions and employers who build these rules around preset and race-based stereotypes that are themselves racist. Racism from the left or right or from wherever is wrong,” Holt stated.
He also pointed out that this bill addresses taxpayer-funded training and curriculum.
“I don’t think it should blame contemporary Iowans or Americans for events that happened in earlier decades or centuries or scapegoat entire groups of people. Dividing whole groups into oppressors and oppressed is a racist, sexist stereotype because it degrades the actual lived experiences of individuals as well as their character,” Holt said.
The Iowa Senate passed its vision of this bill, SF 478, 33 to 14 on March 8. That bill was larger, including free speech protection elements found in HF 744 that passed in the Iowa House 96 to 1 on Tuesday afternoon before debating this bill.
Listen to the full Iowa House debate below: