On December 1, 2021, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed Senate Bill 3, restricting teachers from discussing “controversial” social affairs, which led to the banning of critical race theory (CRT) from classrooms. CRT is a cross-disciplinary framework that analyzes the role of race and racism in social, political, and economic institutions. Though the law itself doesn’t explicitly ban certain topics, I could easily assume what the Texas Legislature was trying to prevent: acknowledgement of the deep systemic racism in the United States of America.
Unfortunately, Texas isn’t the only state scrambling to outlaw CRT. Five states have already banned CRT, and more than a dozen others have bills of the same effect currently moving through their legislature. However, CRT is an essential tool in education if we want to equip young Americans with the tools necessary to confront the intersectionality and omnipresence of racism that is our reality.
In essence, CRT aims to understand and interrogate the influence of race-based structures in American establishments. CRT recognizes the importance of looking at racism not as a relic of the past that we can simply leave behind, but as a set of deeply embedded principles that we continue to uphold every day through law and other fields of study. CRT does not aim to chastise certain individuals who benefit from the systems in place, but rather, to contextualize our power structures themselves.
To begin with, CRT actively disrupts the racism in our society. Racism has become so normalized that most people either unintentionally promote bigotry and harm through their actions or stop short of combating biases. This neutral attitude allows white supremacy in American institutions to go undetected and unquestioned — but CRT steps up and challenges it.
CRT highlights the effect of racial hierarchies on people of color in all aspects of life: social, institutional, political, and economical.
Critics may argue that by exposing children to racism in all of its forms, kids will grow up hyper-focused on finding any hint of racism in their everyday interactions and firmly believing that any disparity favoring the dominant class is racism. Sure, this is somewhat true. Through CRT, children will come to realize how deeply ingrained racism is in our society, from the individual level to more overarching practices. But that is exactly the point. America was founded on slavery, and we do not live in a racism-free world. Often, in our society, people don’t realize that what they might perceive as normal behavior might be derogatory to minorities. We can ignore it and continue the cycle, or point it out — even the small details and habits — and confront it. Through the identification of the harmful nature of these mundane practices, Americans will be able to interrupt and uproot such internalized habits.
Americans need to know the history of their country because it has created the country they live in today. Racism is not diminished when race is not focused on all of the time. We cannot simply tell students that they can eradicate racism by ignoring the skin color of their classmates. It is in acknowledging the inequality and inequity of America through teaching CRT early on that we can work to dismantle such practices.
Opponents of CRT also reason that its premise makes young white children feel like they should feel guilty for simply being born white, and that CRT teaches the American youth to hate their country.
But one cannot talk about systems that are based on race-based discrimination without bringing up racism itself. CRT is not meant to guilt-trip white students, leaving them ashamed of their own identities. That is simply a narrative that is often forwarded to make schools avoid conversations surrounding race at all. In practice, in their encounters with the abhorrent history of systemic oppression, white students will likely express denial, anger, and shame. These are all natural feelings when you see someone of your complexion and privilege oppressing another group of people. It is precisely those initial reactions that give teachers the room to address concepts of privilege in a healthy manner. CRT creates an imperative opportunity to talk about the racism still running through all aspects of our community.
To challenge the last point of CRT critics, CRT is not anti-American or anti-white. Detractors claim that CRT accuses the U.S. of being a racist country. But that is true. The problem lies in relating that to CRT being anti-American and anti-white. That portrayal is a politicized misrepresentation of CRT designed to discourage discussions about systemic racism. CRT simply highlights the truth. There is racism in this country resulting from the reverberations of slavery. This is true. This is our history, undistorted.
Moreover, the Declaration of Independence and Amendments of the Constitution push states to extend the same rights and liberties to all of America’s citizens. However, minorities’ interests are often subservient to the current white-run system’s self-interest, so when enforced in the real world, these principles are often disregarded. CRT actually questions the lack of justice within conventional legal institutions, and successfully emphasizes the ideologies of equality and liberty that the Founding Fathers swore to uphold.
It is about time our society stops tiptoeing away from implementing CRT in schools because they are afraid of acknowledging their privilege or acknowledging that said privilege is built off of the oppression of others. We should not be promoting censorship in classrooms. Rather, we should point out and object to the systemic oppression that will bear weight on everyone’s lives in one form or another. CRT and its tenets, not color blindness, are an irreplaceable way through which our society can progress to a truly diverse and inclusive community.
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