Wisconsin Rep. Shelia Stubbs Busted For Dealing Politics In White Neighborhood

Post-Racial America

Shelia Stubbs recently became the first black woman to represent the 77th Assembly District in Madison, Wisconsin. She won the Democratic primary in August with almost 50 percent of the vote and won't face a Republican opponent in the general election. The same month she achieved this "game-changing" victory, though, she also enjoyed the almost predictable black experience of having white people (this time her future constituents) call the cops on her.

Stubbs was canvassing in a neighborhood on Madison's west side when a resident sounded the Negro Alarm.

"FULLY OCCUPIED SILVER 4 DR SEDAN NEWER MODEL - THINKS THEY ARE WAITING FOR DRUGS AT THE LOCAL DRUG HOUSE - WOULD LIKE THEM MOVED ALONG," read the notes from the call for service, made shortly before 7 p.m. on Aug. 7.

The occupants of the sedan were Stubbs, her 71-year-old mother, Linda Hoskins, and her 8-year-old daughter in the backseat. Is this "local drug house" known for its long waits? Is it like a Sunday brunch spot in Portland, Oregon? You just chill in the car as that "20 minute wait" stretches to infinity? I'm not a junkie myself but I'd think speedy transactions aren't just good for business but a key to avoiding prison time.

Stubbs, who has served on the Dane County Board of Supervisors for 12 years, is the second black politician this summer whose simple act of canvassing a neighborhood ended in an encounter with the police. Cops were sicced on Oregon House Rep. Janelle Bynum because a resident claimed she was in the neighborhood for "no apparent reason" and wasn't wearing identification. What was this? Walmart? Oregon and Wisconsin both have fairly low black populations. If you're that worried, just learn the names of all the black citizens. It shouldn't be any harder than a teacher memorizing student names at the start of the school year.

But in the moments when [Stubbs] spotted the squad car next to her own vehicle, asked the officer what was wrong, explained what she was doing and tried to then explain to her daughter why any of it had happened, she was heartbroken and humiliated.

"It's 2018," Stubbs said in an interview. "It shouldn't be strange that a black woman's knocking on your door. I didn't do anything to make myself stand out. I felt like they thought I didn't belong there."

Justifiably weary black folks often cite the current year as a means of expressing shock that racism is still in fashion. "It's 2018! Why is that woman wearing Uggs?" But racism endures and is arguably just as ugly as Uggs. Stubbs said she was treated like she "didn't belong there." And it's true that if you're black you have to constantly explain yourself and justify your presence "there." "There" is a moving target. It can be a public park or a street corner or even your own home.

Not to get all metaphysical on y'all today but this particular incident raises the question of whether cops are called on black people because white people are afraid of drug use in the neighborhood or is the specter of drug use the convenient excuse to have black people removed from the neighborhood? The caller wanted Stubbs and her family "moved along," like they were rotting garbage left out on the curb that had been missed on trash day.

The 77th District was previously represented by Democrat Terese Berceau, who is white and retiring (from politics not whiteness, which is a good gig). Berceau endorsed Stubbs and they share similar positions on reproductive rights, gun safety, and workers' rights, among other key issues. The District as a whole is fairly diverse economically, containing some of Madison's poorest and wealthiest neighborhoods. Stubbs declines to identify which neighborhood she was in during the averted drug score, but she indicated that it was predominately white.

Botham Jean's untimely death demonstrates how fatal white certainty can be. The person who called the police on Stubbs and her family was certain there was no other non-criminal explanation for their presence. You can find a police officer or some common Travis Bickle standing over a dead black body with a smoking gun in their hand and everyone cautions us not to "jump to conclusions," but random white people frequently jump to conclusions about black people like they're playing Double Dutch.

Give us a break for a while, please. It's tiring to explain to your kids why everyone thinks you're a criminal.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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