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Critical Race Theory Deserves Better Defenders — Elias Khoury, University of Michigan
Yesterday was Juneteenth, which is now a federal holiday. The motion to recognize it as such passed the Senate unanimously, marking one of those rare occasions when bipartisanship isn’t totally sickening. In the House, however, there were 14 dissenters. That’s right: 14 congressional Republicans opposed celebrating the end of chattel slavery in America. Perhaps you could call that group of vandals the GOP’s Trumpiest fringe.
But, of course, you don’t need to pay a visit to the fringe to catch Republicans being racist. Just look at their newfound obsession with critical race theory — the latest conservative bogeyman. Schoolchildren, they say, are being taught to hate America and even white people. “Critical race theory is bigoted, it is a lie, and it is every bit as a racist as the Klansmen in white sheets,” proclaimed Ted Cruz, clearly trying to position himself for a run at the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Bigoted, false, and as racist as the KKK? That is quite the charge. Its temerity is outdone only by its absurdity.
And this hysteria goes far beyond just rhetoric. Legislators who share Cruz’s delusions are taking action. The right of educators to teach critical race theory is under serious legal threat in 21 states. At least now we can retire the myth that Democrats and progressives are the ones censoriously controlling academia.
But the response by those Democrats and progressives to the Right’s war on critical race theory has been underwhelming. Their favorite refrain is that conservatives are, like Don Quixote, fighting an invisible enemy. Liberal commentator Brian Tyler Cohen recently tweeted that “literally no kids learn Critical Race Theory in school.” A mere 12 minutes earlier, Representative Ilhan Omar made a similar claim:
“Republicans love to create outrage over things that aren’t actually happening. People should be asking them, what elementary, middle and high school is teaching Critical Race Theory.”
This argument is seriously flawed. If critical race theory isn’t being taught, then the bans don’t seem like such a big deal. They’re like those wacky state and local laws we loved reading about as kids.
Once upon a time, Skamania County in Washington state outlawed the killing of Bigfoot. But, since Bigfoot doesn’t exist, that wasn’t a problem. The law had no practical consequences.
Is the same true of the bans on critical race theory? If you’re barred from teaching something that isn’t being taught anyway, why is that a problem? We’re making the wrong argument. Here’s the argument we should be making (feel free to repeat this verbatim when appropriate):
Critical race theory is a lens of analysis that examines the myriad ways in which racism is woven into the fabric of American society. In other words, without critical race theory, you can’t fully understand this country’s history or politics. It is a critical part of any decent civics curriculum.
Therefore kids should absolutely be learning critical race theory, as should everyone else. Banning it prevents us from becoming a more educated and enlightened society. And that prevents us from finally achieving racial justice.
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