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What Happened in Tennessee Matters to Connecticut

Apr 16, 2023

On April 6, 2023 the Tennessee House of Representatives took explicit, considered, broad-daylight, no-questions-about-it, public, racist action. How? The House’s Republican leadership brought “charges” against three elected members of their body: Rep. Jones, a Black man who is 27-years-old; Rep. Pearson, a Black man who is 28-years-old and; Rep. Johnson, a white woman who is 60-years-old. 

Votes were held. The two Black men were expelled. The white woman was not.

Racism is the only explanation – though ageism also played a part.

White supremacy was bold and loud that day. This blatant action can reflect the angry lashing out of white supremacy, acting like a cornered, mortally-wounded animal. It can, if we all commit to considered, intentional actions in explicit opposition to racism.

Rep. Pearson and Rep. Johnson’s home districts took that type of action by holding emergency sessions to appoint both men back to the House as interim members until special elections are held. Both have said they will run to win back their seats in those elections.

Those of us who are white can follow Rep. Gloria Johnson’s example around how to take action. She stood alongside Reps. Pearson and Johnson in the well of the House during the original call for gun reforms that led to the expulsion votes. She called out the racism she saw, naming that she was the only one of the three who survived her expulsion vote because of the color of her skin. When Rep. Jones returned to the House on April 10, she met him at the door and walked with him, arm-in-arm, to his seat.

Why is this relevant here in Connecticut?

Racism is alive and well here too. It isn’t always as bold as it was in Tennessee last week. That doesn’t make it less harmful or prominent. It’s well-known that Connecticut is one of the most segregated states in the nation in terms of housing and education. 

Our local elected officials are used to flying under the radar. To people not paying attention. We can take action by learning who represents us – at the municipal level, at the school board level, in the state House and Senate, in Congress. We can pay attention to what they are, and are not, talking about. What actions they are, and are not, taking. What things their budgets are, and are not, prioritizing. We can let them know we are watching, what we want, and that our votes will reflect our values.

Most importantly, we must ask what our Black, Connecticut colleagues are asking elected leaders to do? How do they want us to show up in solidarity with their leadership? What does it look like for us to walk with them, arm-in-arm? We need to do those things.

by Abby Anderson

Abby Anderson is the founder of The Justice Walk, providing coaching, consulting, facilitating and training rooted in equity and belonging.