Column: The Critical Race Theory Debate and the Problem of Living in Denial

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I am a big proponent of self-reflection on a personal, professional and societal level.

I strongly believe that if we, as individuals and collectively, are able to critically reflect on our failures and shortcomings, we can use them as motivation and a roadmap for improvement.

Now, I wanted to start there, because it explains how I see this ongoing debate around critical race theory, which seems to have become the latest partisan flashpoint in the “culture wars.” Obviously, some people refer to it without understanding what it actually entails.

Critical Race Theory has been an academic concept for more than four decades. Its basic principles emerged from a framework of legal analysis in the late 1970s and 1980s.

At its core, the purpose of the theory, according to scholars, is to examine how racism has shaped the American legal system and public policy affecting many aspects of American life and American institutions.

“It criticizes how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to lower levels,” civil rights lawyer and adjunct professor Janel George wrote in an article for the American Bar Association.

“He recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, he recognizes that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on black Americans and other people of color continues to permeate the social fabric of this nation. .

The theory definition is not meant to be narrow or static; it’s meant to be scalable, malleable, said Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Columbia law professor who helped coin the term.

In contrast, Republican lawmakers and more outspoken conservatives have called critical race theory the “new intolerance.”

They say it underpins “identity politics,” normalizes a belief in systemic racism, and makes race the lens through which its proponents analyze every aspect of American life. They also argue that it is divisive and racist – against white people.

“Critical race theory asserts that white people are inherently racist, not because of their actions, their words, or what they actually believe in their hearts, but because of the color of their skin,” South Carolina Rep. Ralph Norman said at a conference. press conference last month. He called on the federal government not to fund schools that teach critical race theory.

“Democrats want to teach our kids to hate themselves,” Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert added.

To take the leap to believe that engaging in critical race theory means that people will automatically think every white person is racist is foolish. I believe people are smart enough to understand that Americans and their institutions can operate in a discriminatory or racist way without people as individuals being racist or having malice in their hearts.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t really care about critical race theory per se. What bothers me is that this debate has become another distraction from the uncomfortable conversation our country should be having about racism. I think there are many of these vocal conservatives who recognize this and act – in bad faith – to perpetuate American denial of this reality.

Critical race theory has become that catch-all term used to oppose any type of education or programming that overtly addresses the role of race and racism — efforts that have garnered significant support over the course of the past year following the assassination of George Floyd.

Or as Andrew Hartman, professor of history at Illinois State University, told NPR last week, “Critical race theory is becoming a substitute for this larger anxiety about people. thwarted by the persistent racism.”

Unfortunately, a significant number of Republican lawmakers are ready to take advantage of this anxiety, using bogus complaints about the division to push something that allows some Americans to avoid talking about racial inequality and injustice, to live on. place in denial of the history of this country.

This year, lawmakers in at least 15 states introduced bills aimed at restricting how teachers can discuss racism, sexism and other societal issues in their classrooms.

At least four states — Tennessee, Iowa, Idaho and Oklahoma — have already passed laws. This legislation contains language similar to an executive order issued by former President Donald Trump in September that excluded from federal contracts any diversity and inclusion training interpreted as containing “concepts of division”, “racial or sexual stereotypes and “race or gender scapegoating.”

Educators and free speech advocates have rightly criticized Trump’s order and these laws as nebulous threats to educators who dare to discuss how racism and sexism have shaped this country.

“History teachers cannot adequately teach the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement,” said an English teacher at Chalkbeat Tennessee. “English teachers should avoid teaching almost any text by an African-American author, as many of them mention racism in varying degrees.”

There’s nothing wrong with talking about America’s failures, our country’s history of racism and hatred, or acknowledging the impact of these things today. At least it shouldn’t hurt for kids to have open conversations about it in class.

Because the beauty of America is not that we are perfect or a shining beacon of righteousness. Rather, it is that, despite our flaws and our relatively short history, we are a country with outstanding ideals, unlimited potential, and decent people who are willing to push themselves to be better than us.

However, we will never reach our potential if we live in denial.

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