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Ignorance About Critical Race Theory

I’ve wanted to write an expose about Republican fears of Critical Race Theory (CRT) for several months. It’s now time to do so.

Surveying the racism growing in conservative states has been eye-opening for me, something I never thought I’d see after the blatant attacks on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s-‘70s. Recently, Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered his state to ban lessons that employ CRT or the New York Times’1619 Project from schools. Oklahoma, Tennessee, Iowa and others have done the same, as if White Supremacy should be the hallmark of a liberal education. Apparently, Idaho’s uneducated GOP is suggesting White Supremacy is the most important concept in U.S. history, an idea that fits well with its decades of northern Idaho neo-Nazis where it coddled the Aryan Nations, an American anti-Semitic, white supremacist terrorist organization for decades.

Surveying the racism growing in conservative states has been eye-opening for me, something I never thought I’d see after the blatant attacks on the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s-‘70s.

More recently, on May 19, 2021, Utah legislators in my home state met to determine how they could ban CRT from public education. A hundred percent of Republicans voted to reject CRT, most being unable to articulate what it even might be. But they don’t want Utah’s children exposed to such “dangerous views.” It’s a travesty. More public education that informs our children about racism, privilege and justice are long overdue.

CRT is an old set of ideas from higher-ed, in law schools particularly. It’s become popularized recently by Ibram X. Kendi and his book, How to Be an Anti-racist. Its origins grew out of research by American legal scholars, Richard Delgado, Derrick Bell, Alan Freeman, Kimberle CrenshawCheryl Harris, and others. It is used by academics to analyze how institutional racism is manifest in situations such as segregated housing, bank lending and red-lining practices, educational opportunities, and discriminatory labor practices. 

In contrast, a guy who’s never read a book, or even a paragraph, about CRT, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has compared the theory to the Ku Klux Klan. At least he knows something about the KKK. White Privilege has long been the hallmark of GOP senators like Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Rick Scott of Florida, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee who all currently attack CRT. None want anything to do with CRT in our federal institutions. Meanwhile Utah Sen. Mike Lee tried designating it as evil while Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart, who seldom reads anything, announced he has “grave concerns” about CRT, claiming it’s “inaccurate” and “destructive for young learners.” Utah’s only Black member of Congress, Burgess Owens (R-Utah), has now introduced a House bill banning CRT in federal government diversity training. Meanwhile, Utah’s favorite extremist, Glenn Beck, defined it as “the knockout punch for America.”

Tucker Carlson said it’s a “noxious lie.” Also in recent days, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a known extremist, signed a law limiting how educators can talk about current events and America’s history of racism, specifically banning CRT’s framework in analyzing slavery. Fox “News” has discussed critical race theory more than 1,300 times in recent months, being absolutely wrong every time.

Unfortunately, after Obama’s rise to power, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, along with more victims of police killings, Black Lives Matter protests, and the abject failures of Trumpism, imaginary fears of Republicans have grown worse. In such logic as Florida’s, pointing to the obvious fact that “white persons” may have to learn about race is thought to be dangerous. Extreme GOP accusations now assert that CRT must be Marxist, which, as they “know,” will soon overthrow capitalism. Much of the furor today derives from Donald Trump’s hateful agenda through the years. Among the worst incidents have been his insistence that neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were "very fine people," that five young Black men should have been executed for a murder in Central Park they didn't commit, and that Barack Obama was an illegitimate president because he was a Muslim from Kenya.

As his 2020 campaign began to crash, Trump invented a new weapon to defend his absurdities, Critical Race Theory, as he sought to protect the status quo in social policy. He whined that it’s “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue.” He argued that “Teaching this horrible doctrine to our children is a form of child abuse.” This from a known abuser of many people. His absurdities were laughable, yet terrible, falsehoods. In several other speeches, Trump tried to claim that CRT trainers and educators were “being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to teach very bad ideas and frankly, very sick ideas. And really, they were teaching people to hate our country, and I’m not going to allow that to happen.” Hoping to oppress minority voters and thereby win the election, he lost by a massive 7 million votes, after which he launched his “Stop the Steal” campaign to incite his racist supporters to reverse our democracy.

After Trump’s lies about CRT, the ugly attacks on began ramping up with inflamed attacks by the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), two huge right-wing organizations that constantly seek to combat liberal education. Both groups produced model bills on anti-CRT ideas and conducted webinars about the “dangerous” threat of teaching critical race theory. Many state legislators were easily deceived. Utah officials embraced the outlandish claims as if part of the Ten Commandments.

Now the spread of disinformation has grown beyond state government to parental groups. In cities and towns across the country, reports NBC News, at least 165 local and national groups are taking aim to disrupt lessons on race and gender. Such groups swarm school board meetings and flood districts with time-consuming public records requests. They file lawsuits and legal complaints alleging discrimination against “poor, oppressed” white students. Recently, parents in Salt Lake City amassed at the state Capitol to attack CRT and pressure state officials to ban it. In some school districts, boards of education are being pressured to hold new votes, as hopes for replacing members are strategized. Trump henchman, Steve Bannon, declared that “The path to save the nation is very simple. It’s going to go through the school boards.” Apparently, denying COVID-19, and refusing to wear facemasks are not sufficient signs of “patriotism.” We must now ignore structural racism itself.

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In Maine there’s a chapter for No Left Turn, a group of so-called parents mounting billboards with school district officials’ faces painted to pressure them against CRT. After getting last year’s support on Fox’s Tucker Carlson, No Left Turn jumped from a mere 200 followers to over 30,000 and now has 30 chapters in 23 states. Such crusades aren’t just stupid or silly. They’re downright dangerous efforts to perpetuate whiteness in America. They promote vague assertions seeking to enhance political boogeymen favored by right-wingers like Rep. Kevin McCarthy and his ilk. With GOP legislative ignorance, intentional rhetoric against CRT allows conservatives to create a dichotomy in which discussing how racism shaped our country is both unpatriotic and anti-American. More parental advocacy groups are emerging such as Parents Against Critical Theory with a pretty specific agenda.

Several Black friends and I recently composed a list of topics for public school education about Black history. Here’s a summary for readers to consider their own experience as youngsters, at least in Utah’s public schools:

Things Utah Schools Will and Will Not Teach You

First, Here’s What Utah Schools Will NOT Teach You (and in many other schools nationally):

  • The bombing of Black Wall Street in Tulsa
  • How white people cooked and ate Black people
  • The MOVE bombing
  • The Rosewood Massacre
  • About Juneteenth, America’s newest federal holiday created a week ago and signed by U.S. President Joe Biden
  • Who Malcolm X really was
  • How the Black Panthers cared for and fed their communities, provided ambulance services, provided street lights, created a school, and protected the community
  • That the first police were slave catchers
  • How cruel slavery was
  • How many of the forefathers owned and raped slaves
  • Anything about Nat Turner
  • The truth about Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad
  • Inventions that were created by Black people
  • How Blacks were not allowed to eat vanilla ice cream except on the 4th of July
  • How pools and beaches in the south were eventually integrated and the riots that ensued
  • How 40 black boys were padlocked into a school and the school was set on fire in Arkansas
  • The “Black 14”
  • Segregation in Utah, including hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and universities, especially at BYU
  • The Tuskegee experiments
  • The 1940s doll study to study the psychological effects of segregation on African-American children in conjunction with Brown vs. Board of Education
  • The Entman studies at University of Chicago on how Blacks are framed by biases on television, in both ads and TV shows
  • Madame Lalaurie, a New Orleanssocialite and serial killer who tortured and murdered slaves in her household
  • Tignon laws requiring women of color to wear a scarf or handkerchief over their hair as a visible sign of belonging to the slave class, whether they were enslaved or not
  • Teachers might talk about Jonestown, Guyana but they will not talk about how the 900-plus people were forcefully killed, the majority of them Black, killed by a white man, preacher Jim Jones
  • Buck-breaking, the act of sexually abusing Black slaves publically in front of other slaves, in order to assert dominance and punish them
  • Redlining, a racist practice I studied and observed years ago which was practiced by most U.S. banks into the 1980s as a systematic denial of various services to residents in racially associated neighborhoods or communities, either explicitly or through the selective raising of prices. It was also widely used in Utah, as well as being the business strategy of having no grocery stores in minority neighborhoods in SLC, Ogden, etc.
  • Gentrification, the process we see in many cities in 2021 where the character of a poor urban area is changed by wealthier people moving in, improving housing, and attracting new businesses, typically displacing current Black and Brown inhabitants in the process
  • Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman who in 1951 before dying gave her cancer cells as the source of the what’s now HeLa cell line to scientists at Johns Hopkins University. It was the first immortalized human cell lineand one of the most important in medical research. An immortalized cell line reproduces indefinitely under specific conditions, and the HeLa cell line continues to be a source of invaluable medical data to the present day.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King’s newly discovered speech on Reparations, White Economic Anxiety and Guaranteed Income, ideas most whites never thought the “nice,” civil rights advocate would ever propose
  • The Elaine Massacre in 1919 Arkansas in which white mobs and federal troops authorized by the governor, along with terrorist organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, became the deadliest racial confrontation in Arkansas history, perhaps the bloodiest racial conflict in U.S. history of perhaps hundreds of Blacks slaughtered by racists white citizens
  • Dr. King’s quotes about white people in the 1960s before he was assassinated: “The price that America must pay for the continued oppression of the Negro and other minority groups is the price of its own destruction.” Also: “White Americans must recognize that justice for black people cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.” And more.

The fact that the suffragettes only fought for the rights of white women and Black women did not get the right to vote until 50 years later

If you learned about one of the things mentioned above, then congratulations. You are the exception.

Below Are Things They DO Teach in Utah Schools:

  • Martin Luther King wrote a speech called the “I Have a Dream” speech that makes white people get warm fuzzies.
  • An incorrect white-washed history of Rosa Parks sitting at the front of a bus
  • George Washington Carver invented the peanut.
  • The Black Panthers were bad. We only like Dr King.
  • An occasional lesson about Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Apartheid
  • The wonderful, safe topic of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad
  • Jackie Robinson, the first Black major league baseball player

If you learned about one of the things mentioned above, then congratulations. You are the exception.

So dear reader, how did you do?

Warner Woodworth