A few weeks ago the Alabama State Board of Education, permanently banned Critical Race Theory in public schools. I saw the news on Twitter and laughed because I was so blown away by the audacity of it all. As someone who minored in African American studies, this ongoing debate on Critical Race Theory, its mettle, and whether it should be “taught to our children” in American schools is hilarious to me because it is clear to me that most of the folks fighting so hard against it have no idea what it is.
I mention my minor because I want it to stand as a stake in the ground, a flag of sorts to indicate how much time, effort, study, and research I put in to the study of the Black American body: our origins and our history in the Americas. I literally started my deep dive into our history from the time the boats left the shores of the African continent and ran all the way up to present day. My focus was African American literature and Hip-Hop as Literature as a way of interconnection with each other and our history while imparting knowledge on the next generation (what can I say I love words). In my research I had to cover all sorts of topics and disciplines. I read tons of authors from Alice Walker to Karl Marx to Jay Z. I researched Black artists, activists, politicians, scientists, and even Black nature poetry writers. I wrote essays on the history of Black folks everywhere from Chile to Canada that discussed the effect that those geographical differences had on the way that our Blackness was perceived even amongst us.
We discussed President Obama and his presidency and I considered how art, movies, and music affected politics and our way of life. I argued against incorrectly positioned Freudian theory. I critiqued Kanye West’s early music with one of his original producers and close friends. I took a whole class on the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party and how they worked together, and apart, in the 1950s, 60s, and beyond. I even had the chance to meet and sit in a film and lecture series featuring one of the real life Red Tails, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen regiment, who fought in World War II.
I did ALL OF THOSE THINGS and still, STILL, I feel like I only just barely scratched the surface on Critical Race Theory, how deeply if affects Black people, and what it truly really looks like in America AND the world over.
Janel George, an Associate Professor of Law and the founding Director of the Racial Equity in Education Law and Policy (REELP) Clinic, wrote a piece on Critical Race Theory and the importance of it being taught both in schools and in general for the American Bar Association. In her piece she said that Critical Race Theory is “a practice of interrogating the role of race and racism in society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship… It recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”
However, as you listen to crazed mobs, and unfortunately some seemingly sane citizens, argue as to why this should not be taught in schools it is clear to me that they are not thinking of Critical Race Theory in way the definition listed above. Instead, they are speaking to Critical Race Theory as if it is a fake history of the Black American and that it exaggerates the struggles that we as a people have faced. They contend that racism is dead (ironic) and they act like Critical Race Theory is not a nuanced area of study. Finally, they also seem to think that this is a topic TOO HEINOUS for their delicate children to bear. Basically, they think that Critical Race Theory means that you just call white people racist with no context and no explanation – when it is clearly so much more.
However even when the person arguing against Critical Race Theory does have the correct definition in mind, they still unfortunately seem to think that this is just a subject that schools and curriculum will be breaching with children along with how to teach cursive. They think this this is a topic that can be added into a high school freshman’s class schedule and not a prevailing theme covering basically all subjects taught in the American school system with wide-ranging implications to subjects that we never even see in our 12 years of pre-collegiate education!
Perhaps it is because I have done SO MUCH research and reading into these topics… Mayhaps (I love this word so much), it is because I have family from the South and lived there, as well as the the micro-aggressive liberal Midwest, for most of my life… And finally, maybe it’s because I’ve gone to private Christian schools where we learned about Jesus’ indiscriminate love all my life and yet the Venn diagram of the people protesting Critical Race Theory and the folks that attended those schools with me has more overlap than they would like to admit… but all I know is that when I see a video of folks PROTESTING against something they know so little about it makes so supremely sad.
I am sad because, even though this concept might seem hard to understand, or uncomfortable to acknowledge because of what it implies about the current state of the world, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t real or happening. I am also sad because – and this is the reason for this whole post – NO ONE ASKED FOR CRITICAL RACE THEORY TO BE TAUGHT IN ELEMENTARY, MIDDLE OR even HIGH SCHOOLS. No one that I know of at least. Finally, I am sad because to me this is a simple fix. Acknowledge the role that white supremacy has had in shaping this nation and how even to this day, shoutout to my home state of Texas, people are still using their whiteness to oppress Black people and people of color around the world. Sit with the people that are hurt, learn where the issues are, and work to fix them. Then commit to that work and make sure that you are closely interacting with those that are affected by the prevalent racism to end it.
Now one way for people to help to begin to alleviate widespread discrimination is to make sure that they learn the history of the the oppressed from the oppressed people’s point of view. Its a history that doesn’t have to be taught in an overbearing or accusatory manner but a history that must be conveyed nonetheless… but the nuance of this history and the systematic issues that stem from it should be communicated by someone who really understands to someone that has all of the facts and is prepared to hear it – and that takes a fully developed mind ready to deep dive into a very robust and honestly never ending topic.
So do I think Critical Race Theory should be taught? Yes. Do I think it should be taught to children? Yes, but only the beginnings. Only the history of Black people in America. What we are asking for is Black history to be acknowledged in the shaping of the United States. Then as students learn more and more about Black (read: American) history will they be able to begin to grasp that maybe there is a little more to this story than we first thought. That way, by the time we get to college and reaaaaalllyyy start delving deep into topics of historical, political, and sociological nuance (when these kinds of topics are truly studied and covered) Critical Race Theory will be able to be woven into those lessons.
Until then, stop being weird and stop trying to protect your racist great-grandmothers’ good name. She was a racist. Get over it…and if you are protesting against Critical Race Theory the apple clearly didn’t fall from the tree it stayed connected and rotted.
PS: If all of this is too hard to comprehend, all I’m saying is we teach students how to add and subtract in first and second grade. We do not start their math journey with triple integrals or differential equations. So what sense does it make to permanently ban Critical Race Theory in schools where the students are not yet academically prepared to receive that information any way? The only reason a person would rush to do that is if they too are not academically prepared to understand that information either. Is banning calculus in elementary schools next? Of course not because calc doesn’t confirm that your way of living is killing your fellow man… or maybe it does.
PPS: If you saw that Kyle Rittenhouse trial and don’t think that Critical Race Theory is a real and teaching about abolition and Black (read: American) history then wow… I just, wow…