My Turn: HB 544 is wrong for New Hampshire

For the Monitor
Published: 4/15/2021 12:00:07 PM

HB 544, the “propagation of divisive concepts” bill that has now been added to the House budget, is wrong for New Hampshire and is antithetical to the expressed intent of its sponsors and proponents.

This bill seeks to enshrine in New Hampshire law a 2020 executive order issued by President Trump (since rescinded by President Biden) that would have barred federal agencies and the agencies they contract with from offering training promoting diversity, equity and inclusion.

As a community mental health center with a contract with the State of New Hampshire, West Central Behavioral Health would be in violation of the law by acknowledging as real issues racism, sexism and other “isms” we see in our community.

HB 544’s sponsors say it is needed to ensure that free speech is not infringed upon in New Hampshire. But it does the exact opposite. HB 544 says that no contractor of the state shall engage in discussions or training that at all infers that the state or the United States has any systemic inequities.

Our country was founded and governed for extended periods of time by rich, white land-owning men. In other words, the rules by which our nation was founded was based on supporting majority privilege. At its founding, women were not allowed to vote. African Americans were slaves and were not even considered people. The three-fifths compromise is enshrined in our Constitution.

HB 544 would prohibit discussion of our past so that we can evaluate our present society and make concerted efforts to forge a better future. How can we, as a society, attempt to bring about greater equity, remove the barriers of majority privilege and thwart both physical and verbal aggression toward minorities in our community?

Cultural competency training in our society is not relegated to being culturally aware and sensitive. It requires that we understand our history and our own experiences and biases so that we can break these vicious cycles.

It may be uncomfortable to look at ourselves in the mirror, but I am more afraid of what we become if we do not. Of all times, can we really turn our backs to Asian Americans who are being physically assaulted due to a misguided belief that they somehow caused the COVID pandemic?

HB 544 says that we must, because to do otherwise means we have to acknowledge that there is systemic fear and intolerance of “the other” in our society. We cannot change that which we do not acknowledge and understand. HB 544 goes against the values of all residents of New Hampshire.

(Roger Osmun is president and CEO of West Central Behavioral Health.)

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