By Aaron Allen, The Seattle Medium
America is at a crossroads. Do we measure our growth as a nation by how far we have come or how far we have to go in our efforts in becoming a more perfect union? There is a debate that centers around the Critical Race Theory (CRT) and how history and the present should depict racism in America and how racism or anti-racism should be taught in our school systems.
CRT is the study of how the law and policy has shaped race relations in America. It is the theory that racism is systemic in our institutions in order to maintain the status quo of inequality between White America and people of color as well as how history is perceived and told.
“Very simply, critical race theory is the idea that racism is built into American institutions and frameworks to keep White people in the position of power in society,” says Maya Pottiger in her article posted on wordinblack.com
Originated in the 1970’s by American legal scholars including Kimberle Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA Law School and Columbia Law School and now executive director of the African American Policy Forum, a social justice think tank; Derrick Bell, the first tenured African American professor at Harvard Law School; Richard Delgado, who teaches civil rights and critical race theory at the University of Alabama School of Law; and others, Critical Race Theorists conclude that “race is not a natural, biologically grounded feature of physically distinct groups of human beings but a socially constructed (culturally invented) category that is used to oppress and exploit people of color.”
In addition, the theorists go on to say, “the law and legal institutions in the United States are inherently racist insofar as they function to create and maintain social, economic and political inequalities between Whites and non-Whites, especially African Americans.”
Central to the current debate on CRT is whether or not it should be taught in K-12 Education and if so, what it would look like?
Conservatives and liberals have been at odds on its relativity and purpose and if it is appropriate to teach in schools. Some educators believe due to the nature of a liberal education, CRT is vital to the accurate teachings of our history.
According to Dr. Anthony L. Pinder, Vice Provost of Internationalization and Equity at Emerson College, “the very essence of a liberal education makes teaching of Critical Race Theory an educational imperative.”
“An accurate teaching of any country’s history should not be denied,” says Pinder.
As most states grapple to ban CRT and its role in education, CRT advocates look to it as a practice reminding America the role that racism plays in promoting White privilege and rejecting the notion that the past should stay in the past, and the watered-down narrative of the past should be accepted and not challenged.
“Critical Race Theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” Crenshaw told CNN.
The Puget Sound region has taken the lead in implementing their own version of CRT. Washington State has mandated CRT in all of Public Schools, as Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a trio of bills into law that mandates CRT training for all public school teachers.
Although the mandates do not go into effect until the 2022-2023 school year, many districts have already jumped on board.
The Issaquah School District, for example, vows it will fight racism by identifying and removing bias and systemic and institutional barriers that create marginalization. Seattle Public Schools (SPS) has developed a “Racial Equity Team” and the Highline School District has mandated similar training and will hold an annual race symposium.
As it relates to SPS, the school board has approved new high school courses that align with the ideology of CTR, including Black Studies as part of U.S. History, LGBTQIA awareness courses and anti-racism and civic engagement curriculums.
Narrative is the central focus of this national debate. What should the narrative of American history be? The Right promotes that CRT looks to diminish and shame white America’s version of history and victimize non-white Americans. Whereas the Left looks to open the dialogue by investing in the holistic contributions through the diversity that is America.
Dr. Brent Jones, Interim Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, believes that that application of CRT could lay the foundation to better understanding the role of race and racism in America’s historical narrative.
“I am supportive of telling the most accurate and holistic truths of how race manifests in the context of American history,” says Jones. “Defending a singular narrative that excludes other people experiences is naive and not helpful for students. The spirit and application of CRT lays the groundwork for inclusion, recognition and restoration.”
This article is one of a series of articles produced by The Seattle Medium through support provided by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to Word In Black, a collaborative of 10 Black-owned media outlets across the country.