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Bill Prohibiting Teaching Certain Ideas On Racism Passes Arkansas House

Arkansas House

The Arkansas House has voted to advance a bill that would prohibit public schools, as well as open enrollment charter schools in the state, from teaching certain aspects about racism.

By a vote of 63-13, representatives passed House Bill 1761. Under the legislation, schools would be unable to teach anything that falls under a list of five ideas. Those ideas include: that any individual from a particular race or ethnicity is inherently racists, or that any race or ethnicity should “feel guilt or shame” due to their race or ethnicity.

The bill was revised from its original language to include more permissive language as opposed to mandatory language. It also reduced the list of aspects or ideas that could not be taught.

Presenting the bill to the House, Rep. Mark Lowery, R-Maumelle, said there was one part of the bill that he could not compromise on.

"The critical element of this bill is to say that we should not teach that America is systemically racist, that the whole organism is racist. Because if that were true, how could we even work together? Black and white," Lowery said.

In speaking on the bill on the House floor, Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, commended Lowery for reaching out to him to work on the bill and make it more of a compromise.

"What I applaud and what I think this shows as a step forward," Murdock said. "The bill has basically been gutted from what is was, but he was willing to do that and I would be remiss if I did not support what he did and tell him thank you for doing that because though this bill don’t do much now towards where it was, it does say something about us." 

He also said the process this bill went under is what more legislation should go through.

"If it does nothing more than say something about us and this institution and what we were able to come through because this session I have seen some very very egregious, to me personally, bills passed through this session that I thought were very mean, nasty, hateful to groups of people. I truly feel that way…[so] for me this is progress," Murdock said.

He didn't vote for or against the bill, just as "Not Voting."

In speaking against the bill, Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, said while she agreed that the amending of the legislation was a collaborative process, she thought the bill warranted more discussion and collaboration, "particularly among our colleagues of color."

"I think when we talk about issues of race and racism, both individual, kind of personal prejudice and racial bias, but also systemic and structural racism, we need to have more stakeholders at the table," Godfrey said. "I think this discussion has proved that we need to continue the conversations, that we’re not ready to take a vote."

The bill now goes to the Senate Education Committee. The legislature is expected to adjourn and begin its break early next week. 

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