A graduate-level academic framework that virtually no one had heard of a year ago has now become a reason for new fights, new laws, and near-riots at school board meetings. Critical Race Theory, a "body of legal scholarship ... that seeks to critically examine U.S. law as it intersects with issues of race," has moved from the university classroom to talk radio and Fox News, and has become an emotional cause célèbre for the right-wing, as well as the subject of numerous proposed new laws in our state legislatures, including Kentucky.
But, who is behind this, exactly? Who are the groups raising so much sand about CRT, screaming about it being taught in their child's kindergarten classroom, and warning that actually discussing systemic racism in our schools will destroy our nation? And what can we do about it?
Before I list the four groups that are driving this movement, let's be clear about some things up front:
- Almost none of the people so upset about CRT could actually define it. All they know is the name, and whatever they have learned from the groups below.
- CRT itself is NOT being taught in any of our K-12 classrooms. As noted above, it is usually studied at the graduate level in college.
- Studies of race, racism, and systemic racism ARE being taught in some of our classrooms, and should be taught in all of them, as racial issues continue to be one of the key factors keeping us from living up to our ideals.
- And finally, as you listen to people get worked up about this topic, note two things:
- What they are angry about is a straw man, explicitly created by others to get them riled up.
- None of them will address the real issue: our ongoing unwillingness to look at our past and current issues with race and white privilege.
The four groups pushing the "Ban CRT" movement
Here are the four groups that I see behind the current uproar about CRT:
(1) Out-Loud Racists — This one is obvious. Racists of any kind (Proud Boys, American Identity Movement, KKK) realize that if racism is exposed for the cancer it is, their movements will be seen for what they are: hate groups. Keeping schools from teaching about race issues in America, past and present, allows them to spread their own message of white superiority to young people with no countervailing message. If I was a leader of one of these groups, I would do all I could to pass laws banning the discussion of race.
(2) Hidden or Subconscious Racists and White Privilege Beneficiaries — Sorry for the long name. A better name, but too trendy for my tastes, would be Un-Woke White Folks.
These are people who, if asked, will claim not to be racist. They will pay lip service to the idea of equality and diversity. But if confronted with such issues as white privilege or systemic racism, they will become emotionally triggered, angry that you would dare accuse them of being the recipient of privilege and deference only because of the color of their skin.
They will argue with you that there is no racism in America, or that the problem is overblown. They will say that talking about it in schools will make the problem worse. They will claim that differences in policing or banking or treatment in stores is the fault of "those people," and not of any white people, and certainly not any problem of theirs.
This is the largest of these four groups, and their influence is widespread. Becoming "woke," as it were, means confronting their own white privilege and admitting that our nation has a problem, and for many of them, this is a bridge too far.
(3)Politicians and Their Supporters and Collaborators — Again, this is one that is easy to see. Republicans, especially, know that much of their base falls into group 2 above, and so they know that talking about "those liberals are teaching that all whites are evil" will get their base riled up AND bring them to the polls in 2022.
As noted above, not one of these politicians or talk-show hosts could define the actual CRT field of study. That doesn't matter to them; it's a great buzz-word, with the word "racial" right in the middle of it. It is almost guaranteed to attract emotional attention from their base, and to make the politicians and pundits seem like "defenders of traditional American values."
And, it's a great fund-raising tool. "Send money now to stop the liberal takeover of your child's school" is sure to generate numerous donations, all in the name of "but the children!"
It is a cynical, despicable, destructive political ploy. They don't care. All they care about is winning the next election – no matter what it takes.
And let's not forget about their even-more-cynical use of a CRT straw man as they write legislation. We already have two bill proposals about public schools teaching children that "all white people are inherently racist." The bill proposals are so broadly and poorly written that they will make it impossible to have any meaningful discussions about race in America.
And, they will make teachers even more overworked, as they try to figure out just what they can and cannot teach. Which leads to the fourth group pushing this scam controversy.
(4) People trying to destroy public education. As hard as it might be to believe, there are people in our midst who want to shut down our public schools. We've covered this before in this post, so I won't go through all the reasons here.
But if your goal is to wreck the schools, what better way than to attack the schools once again, especially over a non-existent problem? Nothing like a made-up controversy to distract from real problems like funding and building maintenance and teacher shortages.
Think I'm exaggerating? Numerous stories have reported that as many as 1 in 4 teachers are considering leaving the profession this year.
And now, the CRT controversy has been added to the mix.
I have no doubt — none at all — that there are enemies of public education who see the CRT faux issue as a great way to put more pressure on both teachers and administrators. They are no doubt behind some of the social media posts, and they are no doubt giving donations to the politicians who are pushing the controversy.
So what can the rest of us do (and not do)?
First of all, don't try to argue with group #1, the racists. Live out your values of caring for all in front of them, and confront them if you must when they act out in public, but don't try to talk them out of their racism. They will have to come to that epiphany on their own.
For group #2, clear explanations of the facts involved may help. Again, confrontation and accusation will not help. Sharing your own story can be a powerful moment. Listening without judgement is also important. The reason the word "woke" gets used is it implies it is possible to awaken. The best way to wake someone up is not shouting or shaking; calmly repeated calls usually work better.
When it comes to group #3, however, calling out may be the only thing you can do. Contacting them probably won't make much difference, unless you can do it in very large numbers. Your best solution? Vote them out.
And the best way to deal with group #4 is to counter their attacks with your own support of your public schools. Show up at school board meetings to thank them for their work, and for their commitment to diversity. Encourage them to continue to challenge their students to think and explore. And if you are part of a group that will do so, draft a resolution calling on them to teach the whole history of our nation, and not just the "good" parts.
Above all, recommit yourself to your own growth and awareness. Stand for the marginalized and the ignored. And work to nominate and elect people who will be servants of all, and not just their donors.
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