A Middle Approach to Critical Race Theory

The Broncos rule and the Raiders suck. It’s that simple because it’s true. But, admittedly, it’s also my bias. I moved to Denver in 1977, just as they played in their first Super Bowl, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

The same is true for Critical Race Theory (CRT) and teaching history. I have a bias for teaching history correctly. Currently, I’m a school administrator, but in my heart, I’ll always be a history teacher. For me, teaching history means teaching four things: students first; then: facts, skills, and concepts.

The first concern for any teacher should be making sure you can reach students, make connections, and help them value history because it’s important for them as a person, not just a student who needs grades. Then, obviously, you teach facts: wars, dates, and specific people. Students should also learn how to analyze documents, look for bias, build arguments, and do research. Finally, students should learn about concepts, such things as rights, justice, economics, patriotism, freedom, movements, and even racism. In fact, CRT is American history. These aren’t easy conversations and topics with students, but they’re absolutely necessary if we want students to get a full education and not just propaganda. Not teaching CRT is censoring (e.g., canceling) US History.

CRT is making the news a lot, today, and as usual, it’s splitting along political lines. Which is fine in a way, discussion is always good. This is why I favor teaching history truthfully, which includes concepts up CRT.

As a former conservative, I am seeking to understand the issues of today from the lens of The Middle. And frankly, I think the best place to understand CRT is from the middle. This means teaching the content so that students understand the impact of history, not trying to tell white students that they are racist (more on this below). That’s a misnomer to CRT.

At this point, let me define Critical Race Theory. First, it’s older than you might think. It began in the 1970s by Harvard Law Professor, Derrick Bell. CRT focuses on the systems that we have in the United States. This includes our legal and educational system, employment, how we vote, housing and health, and more. It then looks at those systems and how they were created to oppress people of color. By teaching this, we are asking our students to re-evaluate these systems to see how we can rebuild these systems and laws to improve the lives of not just POC, but everyone, including those who oppose CRT. The rising tide theory, as it were.

CRT is also a response to Liberal Race Theory. According to Ian Haney López, the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Public Law at the University of California, Berkeley, to him, Liberal Race Theory views racism as “personal prejudice that risks nothing more than errors in judgment.” That if we have fewer bigots, we will have less racism. This is when it became fashionable to be “color blind.” CRT says, yes, bigots are a problem, but … there’s a bigger problem at hand. LRC may make some comfortable because it’s an individual’s problem, but racism is a societal problem.

A good analogy to solving the societal problem of racism is this: when we ask people to help the homeless, we often have coat drives, food drives, and things like that. Things that help homeless people live each day a bit easier. CRT wants to look at WHY there are homeless people in the first place. Coat drives will not end homelessness. We will only end homelessness by addressing the root causes of homelessness.

Here comes the clarity part of the debate. I’m not sure I’ll get an agreement, but maybe somewhere we can meet in the middle.

Let’s face it, the United States has a long history of structural racism. In fact, Republicans like to use this fact against Democrats when they try to deflect claims of racism. They’ll talk about how the Democrats created the KKK and Jim Crow and opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (never mind the fact that those same democrats were conservatives).

Everything from slavery, to discrimination in schools, marriage laws, voting, water fountains, lending practices, housing … everything, I don’t need to list it, were designed to oppress POC. These structures existed in the most obvious ways that everyone should agree with, even up to 1986, when the Supreme Court finally ruled that African Americans could not be dismissed from a jury through peremptory challenges, merely because of race. That was only 35 years ago. Are we supposed to think the foundations of systematic racism have ended in the last 35 years after 200 years of it? Look at Georgia’s flag, it’s still the original Confederate flag!

Or, let’s even pretend we had eliminated all vestiges of systematic racism in 1967 after the Loving vs. Virginia case (which allowed for interracial marriage), do you think in that 50+ years, the negative remnants of systematic racism would just fade away?

So where are we today?

The fact that most of our systems and institutions were designed to oppress, should not be controversial. It’s our greatest sin as a nation, and we have not repented from it. Furthermore, the sin of racism, with its long history, doesn’t just end as a football season might. No, it has inertia. Racism will not just fade into the sunset because we want it to.

Slavery did not fade away. It took 600,000 deaths in a Civil War to end it, officially. But then we had sharecropping, mass incarceration, and Jim Crow. Yes, many laws enabling racism were slowly taken down, such as Brown versus Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it’s not just laws that keep the shadow of racism on our land, it’s attitudes. Think of those who live in West Virginia and other Union states of the Civil War, have monuments to Civil War heroes, and fly the Confederate flag. West Virginia, and others, aren’t celebrating its confederate heritage. It’s displaying racism.

Inertia means that only force can end racism. Laws may change, but knowledge and attitudes need force to end racist thoughts. Part of the “force” is Critical Race Theory. Our students need to learn how many of our systems were built to oppress. We can’t just teach kids to stop using the n-word. It requires much more.

What does it look like when structural racism isn’t stopped? Despite progress, such as an elective Black President, we still have these problems:

  • Infant mortality is 4.7 per 1000 for Whites and 11 per 1000 for African Americans

There’s more, but in the important statistics for quality of life, African Americans lose at a disproportional rate. Always.

The ultra-right likes to blame the victim for this. Laziness is a common term used. Dennis Prager, who I used to read and listen to, would often cite the number of hours watched by poorer Americans as a cause of their problem. Even some African American college professors, like John McWhorter, will say African Americans just aren’t as interested in education. More commonly, conservatives fear that CRT teaches students to hate the United States.

It’s funny, Conservatives criticize Liberals for wanting to tear down symbols of slavery, telling them that they can’t erase history. But that’s exactly what they want to do by eliminating CRT in schools. It’s hypocritical. Plus, what better way to love America than to teach students that we made a mistake, we’re admitting to that mistake, and we want to make it right? Isn’t that what every parent teaches their child? Isn’t that patriotic?

Let me explain it another way: I’m 50% German and was born in Germany. My mom is 100% German. Her father fought in the German army in World War Two and I’m sure I have relatives who fought for Germany in World War One. While I grew up in American schools, all I heard in history classes was about how bad Germany and the Nazis were. TV and movies always depict the evil Germans as villains. German students also learn about Nazi history and see it on TV and in the movies.

But guess what? I love Germany. I’ve been able to visit four times since moving away as a child. I cook German food. I tried learning the German language. I go to Penny Lane Pub in Richmond every time Germany plays in the World Cup. German students also love Germany. Learning about their evil past doesn’t make them hate it. I think our American kids can handle the truth.

Racism and the tools of CRT are important to teach because it’s so prevalent. I would argue two things are most to blame for this: 1) the history of structural racism that I already noted above (which is just a short synopsis of the entire problem); and, 2) cuts in social programs since the 1970s and 80s that have created the inequity we still find ourselves living within 2021.

I’m currently reading The Sum of Us by Heather McGhee. It’s a fascinating look at how “zero-sum” thinking created a system where social programs that were once paid for by the government, e.g., college, housing, were cut once segregation and discriminatory laws ended. It’s a great history book and explains how African Americans have been left out of the American Dream since the 1970s by design.

The subtitle of her book is even more telling: What Racism Costs EVERYONE. Her premise is that while the cuts were targeted to leave POC out of the American Dream, it’s hurting White America, too. After all, the cost of college, housing, health care have all skyrocketed compared to these costs in the 1970s. The terms “welfare queens,” “state’s rights,” “limited government” have all become politically correct terms for Jim Crow. As recently as 1990, Republicans opposed Bill Clinton’s nominee, Lani Guinier, to run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. They called her the “Quota Queen” and called her a radical for supporting CRT.

Just a few weeks ago, Tim Boyd, the recently resigned mayor from Colorado City, Texas, ranted that he was “sick and tired of people looking for a damned handout,” he wasn’t talking about 85% of the people in his town who voted for Trump. He spoke about “government handouts” and “welfare state,” which for years has been code for POC. So in his attack against “socialism,” and POC, white Texans suffered.

Racism is bad for everyone.

Right now, multiple states have banned or are in the process of trying to ban CRT from being taught in schools. Even in colleges where Freedom of Speech and intellectual thought is supposed to be most free. This is legislation coming from fear and is unintellectual, and most likely, unconstitutional. It’s more about stirring up the base than affecting change. And these lawmakers say White Fragility is a myth… preventing teachers from teaching the real impact of racism is exactly the definition of White Fragility.

The Right wants you to think that CRT is an attack on Whites. They’ll try to argue that Whites shouldn’t be blamed for slavery, “I never owned a slave,” and tries to paint themselves in the light of Liberal Race Theory.

But that’s not CRT. I would oppose any supporter of CRT who is trying to blame Whites today for the past sins of America. That’s not the point, nor should it be. So if you think that’s what it is, you can relax. That’s just how Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson want you to think of it. Japan has struggled to accept its violent past toward China and other nations during the World War Two era. We should not do the same.

History students should learn the truth about our history from different perspectives. It’s the key to critical thinking. Currently, there are two curriculums that focus on race in schools: 1619 and 1776 Unites. Now, these two lessons are in an educational battle that shouldn’t have to exist. Here’s how it should be taught: this lesson compares both curriculums and lets students think critically about the issue. But this means discussing historical facts, not allowing governments to censor history.

Discussing the issue is what we need. Not laws preventing this discussion in our schools. There are valuable conversations to have with students on issues such as immigration, voting rights, current events, public history, and much more. If students don’t learn how to have these conversations in school, where will they learn how to do this? My fear is the echo chambers of their own life. Soon, we would have a generation of students who were never asked to understand another person’s point of view.

CRT is about tools, such as impact analysis and listening to marginalized people. It’s about explaining the truth about our history and how it impacts everyone today. It’s up to all of us to understand how many American institutions were created to block POC in the United States. That isn’t made-up propaganda to hurt White Americans' feelings. It’s facts to help everyone live in a more perfect union.

We have come a long way, but we aren’t there yet. And we won’t be if we don’t address the truth. If you’re on the Right, and tired of talking about “race,” then embrace CRT. After all, had we address this in 1865, we might not be having this conversation right now.

Let’s stop kicking the can of racism down the road.

Focusing on history, religion, education, and other random thoughts. Also likes learning how to be a better writer. Posts articles for 3 publishers on Medium.