Let it be known first and foremost: Critical race theory is not a Marxist plot to teach children to hate the United States. In fact, it is not a plot to do anything. It’s a framework designed to help us understand the truth: Systemic racism is a significant part of education, health care, criminal justice and other such institutions in the U.S. In other words, racism is woven into everyday American life, whether it is obvious or not.
Critics — usually conservatives— claim critical race theory is divisive and meant to shame white people for having been born white. However, as the Brookings Institution pointed out in August, critical race theory “does not attribute racism to white people as individuals or even to entire groups of people.” It criticizes the system more than anything else.
Conservatives are so serious about it that in June, The Washington Post reported critical race theory had been mentioned almost 2,000 times this year on Fox News.
Legislation to ban critical race theory in public schools passed in eight states and has been or will be introduced in 20 more as of September. However, the language is so vague that it is unclear what is actually being banned. Only a few of the bills mention the words “critical race theory,” so what are the bills against?
The truth is, critical race theory itself is not being taught at the K-12 level. The bills are truly against teaching racism throughout history, and deem such efforts divisive. The bill in Rhode Island doesn’t allow schools to teach that the U.S. is “fundamentally racist and sexist.”
It is remarkable that the discourse is deafening while, at the foundation of it, lacking fundamental understanding. I am not aware of any case where school districts have aimed to divide students from one another. Teaching students the truth, however — that the U.S. is founded on principles of racism still prevalent today — is something schools should strive for.
What happened in the U.S. historically and how it affects us today is unalterable and unavoidable, no matter the context. Conservatives aren’t offended by other curricula, because they don’t force them to face their discomfort.
Unfortunately, if legislators neglect to educate themselves on topics they are making laws about, it becomes constituents’ jobs to educate themselves beyond what partisan news outlets tell them. The best way to do this is to read and listen to scholars and experts, as well as to question our own discomforts by diving into them head first.