Arizona House Reprimands Its Only Black Members for Calling Out Racism

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If you by chance wanted to know how race and politics interact in Arizona these days, here’s where things stand: Yesterday, the state’s legislature voted to formally rebuke its only two black members for taking issue with a Republican member’s use of the n-word in a recent opinion column. It’s a classic tale of white people conflating being called out for racism with being called a racial slur.

On Wednesday, Democratic Reps. Reginald Bolding and Geraldine Peten spoke out against a column written in the Arizona Republic by Republican Rep. Maria Syms. The column claimed that the teachers’ protest movement in Arizona was part of a socialist plot to “radicalize” students. In the piece, Syms smeared a particular music teacher, Noah Karvelis, for including Pulitzer Prize-winning rapper Kendrick Lamar in his lessons, and she quoted lyrics—including ones that used the n-word—from Lamar’s uplifting song “Alright.” (The Republic has since updated her piece to take out the n-word.) Syms also took issue with Karvelis’ appreciation of Angela Davis, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky.

Bolding addressed Syms’ piece in the legislature, as the Associated Press reported:

“This article attempts to discredit this teacher because he may have introduced lyrics in the classroom written by a black entertainer,” Bolding said. “This article attempts to discredit this teacher because he ‘takes inspiration’ from a black civil rights activist. This article attempts to discredit this teacher because he ‘admires’ a professor that taught at a historically black college for women.

“The more I read the more I was disappointed that it appears to be OK to use a racial slur about black people in the article,” Bolding continued. “Let me be crystal clear: It’s not acceptable to us a racial slur even if that slur is used as a quote.”


Later, Peten spoke to the offense she took to the use of the racial slur, and was met with jeers after she observed the piece was constructed to “discredit African Americans and ‘put us in our place.’”

As a result, the Republican majority voted to formally chastise Peten and Bolding for having the nerve to speak out against the deployment of the n-word in an effort to defame black activism and undermine a fight for teachers and schools. Speaker J.D. Mesnard said it was because Bolding and Peten were“not following the rules,” which is some some heavily coded language:

“I don’t know why it’s so hard to follow the rules,” Mesnard said. “It doesn’t matter whether you are white or black or brown on whatever the color the color of your skin is, you follow the House rules.”

Bolding spoke for a moment after the gavel was banged, but other than that, I’m honestly not sure what rules weren’t followed here. But we all know that this has nothing to do with following the rules. The real question is, if the rest of the Arizona House takes no issue with one of their own employing a racial slur, then what good is the damn House or its rules, anyway?

Isha is a staff reporter who covers pop culture, representation in media, and your new faves.

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