A homogenous Iowa is a bad Iowa

An insular Iowa Legislature is running amok this session. What will happen to the freedoms of those it doesn’t like?

When I grew up, nearly every adult I encountered pushed education and college. They wanted to know about my grades and homework. They asked questions about what I was reading and my classes. My sister and I also grew up in an era where our parents and the Black community believed we had to work twice as hard to be considered as good as the white people around us. 

An insular Iowa legislature is running amok. Legislators are focused on restricting Iowans rights.
A young Dana James and her sister, Camille Boone-Harrison.

Growing up Black in Iowa, I had no choice but to spend the bulk of my school day learning about white people and the revisionist history they taught that reduced Black people to caricatures. 

Still, my parents made sure I knew about the accomplishments of Blacks, including my favorite author Zora Neale Hurston. Did my K-12 education include enough about the contributions of people who looked like me — or anyone who wasn’t white? Not even close. And that annual Black History Month display at school was a nice gesture, but was otherwise inadequate in the grand scheme of things. But my parents and community augmented what my classrooms lacked while they pressed the school district for inclusion. Key word: inclusion.

Between my parents and the nightly news, I’d hear snippets about how we were becoming a global society. How we’d need to be critical thinkers. They discussed how we’d need to be able to speak other languages and interact with people from different cultures. I minored in Spanish.

The goal back then: Embrace diversity, not only so this country could remain competitive, but so everyone could learn to coexist.

This nation is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse as the white population declines, according to census data. Many people fear that shift. They also fear trans and LGBTQ students. This session, some legislators have used their so-called faith to vilify and attempt to discriminate.   

Somebody needs to tell the Iowa legislature — a homogenous Iowa is a bad Iowa. 

If what the legislature is proposing is really what the majority of Iowans want, then I fear for the future of the state. These nouveau Iowans won’t be competitive or be able to coexist peacefully with others. They’ll be deficient (insert any metric here) especially when they travel outside of the state’s borders.

The world is a big place and Iowa is but a speck. It’s not yet the insular, Christian nationalist state some Republicans appear to believe it is — or want it to be.

Not for a lack of trying, though.  

Since the legislature resumed on Jan. 9, the Republican-led legislature approved a “school choice” bill that Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law, which allows parents to use public money to pay for private schools. Republicans have also advanced several other controversial education-related bills that would:

  • Ban public school instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Require parents to be notified if their children identify as a gender other than what’s listed on their birth certificates
  • Remove gender identity protection from the Iowa Civil Rights Act
  • Require school districts to create a process for parents to view and object to classroom materials  
  • Sanction teachers for discussing “divisive concepts” 

Does any of that sound tolerant? Inclusive? Welcoming? Equitable? 

Iowa’s motto is “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.” 

By the time this legislative session is over, I fear the state’s motto will apply to far fewer Iowans. 

This article also appears in the column “New Black Iowa,” part of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative on Substack.


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