On Friday, Rep. John Walker took to the House well to speak in favor of a resolution to honor Teen Jeopardy winner (and Arkansas Times favorite) Leonard Cooper, sponsored by Rep. Warwick Sabin. Walker used his remarks to remind his colleagues of the persistence of racial bias.
Here’s part of what he said (see the whole speech above):
“I take the occasion to join with Representative Sabin, and the others, in acknowledging the tremendous accomplishment of this wonderful young man. One may look at him and understand that he is an ordinary teenager. He has an Afro. And for many of you here, he would be a threat. Remember that. And understand this, if we have good education and afford opportunity to our people, people like Leonard will be readily presented in our public domain. There are many persons like him, but Leonard stands out among most people irrespective of his haircut or his attire.”
At least two Republican representatives weren’t happy with Walker’s speech. Rep. Justin Harris (R-West Fork) tweeted that Walker “needs to be called out for his racial tones and discrimination in the State House.” Later, Rep. Nate Bell added via Twitter, “I’m disturbed by Rep. Walker’s racially divisive speech in the well of House. I hope someday we will all view each other as equals.”
Talk Business’ Michael Cook caught up with Harris to get him to elaborate further. Harris told Cook:
“I was appalled by that [Walker’s remarks]. He got groans from everybody because what he did is he lumped everyone, not just Republicans, he lumped the Democrats in there too. He lumped Representative Leding, he even lumped the sponsor of the Resolution, who has the most liberal district, besides Leding, which is far from being racist or wouldn’t even have those thoughts. I don’t have those thoughts when I walk around Little Rock or anywhere. I just found that very offensive.
This was a resolution to honor a young man, who is a genius, very smart and it doesn’t matter about the color of his skin or what his hair looked like. And he [Walker] made it very racial, he told us we were racial today and I found that very offensive.”
Worth noting: Harris and Bell are from two of the least racially diverse counties in the state (Washington and Polk).
Cook is sympathetic to Harris’ position that Walker took the resolution off course. But when’s a good time to talk about racial bias? What Walker said hardly strikes me as controversial. He, of course, wasn’t saying that only legislators might view a teen-aged black man warily. It’s a broadly held bias. And race and racial bias remain important considerations in education policy.