Opinion: Critical Race Theory
By George Smith — June 19, 2021
Critical race theory (CRT). I thought I knew what it meant. I didn’t.
Is “critical race theory” a way of understanding how American racism has shaped public policy, or a divisive discourse that pits people of color against white people? Liberals and conservatives are in sharp disagreement. (What else is new?)
The topic has exploded in the public arena this spring—especially in K-12, where numerous state legislatures are debating bills seeking to ban its use in the classroom, in effect, banning episodes in history that may be unpleasant.
In truth, the divides are not nearly as neat as they may seem. The events of the last decade have increased public awareness about things like housing segregation, the impacts of criminal justice policy in the 1990s, and the legacy of enslavement on black Americans. But there is much less consensus on what the government’s role should be in righting these past wrongs. Add children and schooling into the mix and the debate becomes especially volatile.
School boards, superintendents, even principals and teachers are already facing questions about critical race theory, and there are significant disagreements even among experts about its precise definition as well as how its tenets should inform K-12 policy and practice. This explainer is meant only as a starting point to help educators grasp core aspects of the current debate.
Just what is critical race theory anyway?
“Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies,” according to Wikipedia.
The basic tenets of CR emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.
A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.
(Note: The older I get, the more I read, the more research I do to help explain things.)
Growing up in Avery, an all-white East Texas enclave of about 300 souls, I was fortunate to have teachers that “taught” history as it should be taught, as a series of events that formed our present. They taught the good, the bad and the ugly.
I learned the name of the first black man to set foot on Texas soil (Estavancio,), was a slave to Spanish explorers; I was taught how Texas independence fighters wrested the future state from Mexico in a massive land grab; and how settlers mistreated Native Americans in a series of illegal land acquisitions and broken treaties.
You know, history, real history, not the sanitized version being taught mostly back then…and still today.
History is history, it is truth. Truth: George Armstrong Custer was no gallant prairie warrior defending “real” Americans from savages; Abraham Lincoln had human flaws, including a plan to relocate tens of thousands of former slaves to a Caribbean island; and, when the Constitution was written, “All men are created equal…” did not mean what it said.
To teach the flaws in our development of this country is important to enlighten citizens to past mistakes so we do not repeat them.
That’s the beauty of looking at the past objectively, so we can learn from past mistakes and, thus, create a path to a brighter future.
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