Black-elected officials in Wisconsin have seen their numbers decrease in recent years.
Not only have numbers decreased, their political influence also has been diminished.
Most recently, Black and Latino electeds have been dealt a blow by the recent decision to allow White representatives into the Black and Latino caucus.
This would effectively change the Black and Latino caucus to the White, Black, and Latino caucus or a second Milwaukee caucus.
Not only is this move inconsistent with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), it is not an effective way to represent or fight on behalf of the interests of African Americans.
When Rep. Steve Cohen unseated Rep. Harold Ford of Tennessee, he then tried to become the first white member of the Congressional Black Caucus but he was refused.
The CBC’s mission is to “Empower America’s neglected citizens.”
In that work, and in their forty-three year history, they have never interpreted that mission to mean White folks must become members in order to carry out their work.
Helping African Americans has little to do with allowing White-elected officials into a minority caucus.
Whether as elected officials or constituents, African Americans disproportionately suffer poverty, unemployment, incarceration, health issues, low graduation rates, and overall wealth disparities. Representation of majority Black districts by Black people helped African Americans during the Civil Rights era and beyond.
The role of minority caucuses is two-fold.
First, to establish and support policies specific to advancing the initiatives of minority groups.
Second, to provide a safe-space for minority elected officials to meet in their own interests as a collective group.
Suppose the Congressional Black Caucus had allowed White members in 1971, would their protest during President Nixon’s State of the Union Address have happened? Possibly not.
Their ability to meet as a collective minority was just as important as their ability to identify the issues unique to their districts.
When White representatives of majority minority districts want to discuss the issues that affect their constituents they can do that with minority officials in other venues.
Allowing White representatives into the Black and Latino caucus has nothing to do with helping ethnic minorities.
What helps African Americans and other ethnic minorities are sound policies on education, employment, and development.
For example, Wisconsin has the highest Black-White and Black-Asian educational achievement gap.
One answer might be to establish a Minority Office of Educational Excellence, specifically dedicated to studying the dynamics, practices, and elements of education that have had the most positive impact on minority and low-income students.
What is most problematic about the recent move to allow White representatives into the Black and Latino Caucus is that one very talented and smart Latina representative might be excluded.
This sends the wrong message to minorities throughout Wisconsin.
What it says is that, even Black and Latino groups will prioritize the interests of White elected officials over members of their own ethnic group.
In the current political and economic climate, where African Americans and other minorities are suffering, the answer is for our leadership to work hard and be smart about policies.
If you want to address incarceration, initiate a policy that does so.
If you want to address racial disparities in unemployment, then do so.
That is the real work that needs to be done, not diminishing the collective voice of Black and Latino representatives or their constituents.
Jarett Fields is the State Director of Democrats for Education Reform in Wisconsin.