To understand the legislative attacks on Critical Race Theory (CRT) that aim to make teaching CRT in schools—including concepts like white supremacy, systemic racism, and the like—illegal, don’t get caught up on the legislators. We know who and what they are. Rather, put your attention on their constituents; white folks who appear friendly, but remain ignorant.
They are satisfied with maintaining the status quo of their place in society.
They can tolerate people thriving in society but not at their expense—and by expense I mean a redistribution of rights and privileges that make society more equitable while, at the same time, reconciling for past injustices.
They acknowledge the evils of enslavement and even of Jim Crow segregation, yet believe that incremental progress is sufficient. To justify their stance, they typically provide three arguments.
It Wasn’t Me
The first argument is the It Wasn’t Me argument. They’ll say, “My family didn’t own slaves. I grew up poor and I wasn’t privileged.” They’ll also say, “My family emigrated here from Europe, so we didn’t have anything to do with that; we were oppressed and discriminated against also.” Because enslavement in the United States formally ended in 1865, that’s too long ago to hold against white people and the federal government. Therefore they’ve absolved themselves of the responsibility of atoning for the sins of their racial ancestors. However, European immigrants were invited to become white and they accepted. Therefore, if they choose to accept the privilege, they must collectively work towards atonement.
I Don’t See Color
The second argument is the Colorblind argument. Also known as the “I don’t see color” claim. This is an often utilized argument to feign allyship, as well as to rally solidarity with the society as it is. They cite Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, specifically the piece where Dr. King says he wishes his children not to be judged by the color of their skin, but rather by the content of their character. These individuals are as blind to the rest of Dr. King’s speech as they are to color; willfully ignorant of the reality that a colorblind philosophy always has whiteness as the default and racism in the rearview.
The third argument is the Whataboutism argument. This argument follows up the first two succinctly. The first argument covers enslavement, the second covers civil rights and this argument covers our current dispensation. When I was a child, it was “what about Oprah, Michael Jordan and Michael Jackson? They’re all Black and successful … racism didn’t stop them.” Today, it’s, “What about Beyonce, Jay-Z, LeBron James and Barack Obama … racism didn’t stop them.”
Barack Obama is always considered the biggest spade to be played.
These individuals know that the people they mention are exceptions and not the rule. But the success of those few hold up the Protestant lie of ethics; that hard work will win you God’s blessing of material gain. However that’s the reward of another god.
The lie is especially harmful to Black children.
These arguments provide a boilerplate baseline rationale for any white person who wishes to maintain a posture of protectionism, disguised as a trope, in which we, as a society, have overcome the evil that clearly still resides. They seek to protect a state of being; it is not enough to have the privilege, but a belief in one’s entitlement to the privilege is normalized as nature rather than a product of socialization.
Black bodies are deemed acceptable because of what they produce for society—labor. Much like during enslavement, Black bodies are useful to protect, serve, produce and entertain. Black life within those bodies is tolerated to the extent that it is reflective and embracing of the social order; a life that conforms to the white supremacist social order rather than challenging it, specifically when in public. Uncovering the veil is for the privacy of your own homes.
However, when the social order is challenged and condemned for the evil that it is, those who make these arguments believe you are challenging and condemning them as evil. Nevertheless, the ethnocentric view of the world they often display is a result of their own socialization. Education, as an institution, is leveraged by a white supremacist social order to normalize acts of systemic racism, capitalism, patriarchy, and religious xenophobia among other things as what makes the United States exceptional, and that they, white people, are immune from the poison consumed from rotten fruit of that tree.
But they are not.
For these individuals, any resistance to that oppressive mindset, in addition to restrictions on oppressive action, is deemed oppressive. However, challenging the social order in schools by teaching a more balanced and accurate history, or by including the experiences of historically oppressed and marginalized peoples, is an attempt to make all of us fully human. Unfortunately, those who cling to these arguments cannot see past the definition of humanity they were given.
This is why it is imperative that classroom content goes beyond learning for learning’s sake; that it goes beyond simply depositing into children information to sparking inquiry that’ll lead young people to investigate and challenge injustice. Teaching and learning like that will certainly change society, but I believe for the better.
No longer will we remain unbothered at the sight of injustices experienced by others.
No longer will we be swayed by catchy slogans that lack substance and ignore the humanity of all people.
No longer will we be able to shut our doors and concentrate on me and mine.
No longer will we cling to myths that teach us to believe we are worthless.
A classroom that produces students who are fully human, students who strive to create the conditions for others to see themselves as fully human, opens a portal to a society that those on the side of freedom have only imagined; a world the oppressors are cultivated to fear. And when they encounter something they fear, they respond by attacking it, running away, or even hiding from it—and they may not even know why. These legislative antics are simply the fight against antiracist efforts.
Carter G. Woodson once said,
“When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”
That man will also demand that teaching the very thing that’ll allow him to see himself, and others, as fully human be made illegal.