‘The White Students Didn’t Feel Guilty’: Some States, Local Governments Protect Racial Justice Education Amid Conservative Efforts to Ban Critical Race Theory in Schools

Officials in some states and cities have mandated racial justice education in response to a nationwide strategy by Republicans to ban certain concepts about racism and discrimination in schools.

Andria Derio sits in the gallery before the Placentia Yorba Linda School Board discusses a proposed resolution to ban teaching critical race theory in schools. She is opposed to teaching CRT in school, and wears a sign stating she will remove her children from the district should it not pass. (Photo: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Mississippi is the latest state to prohibit the promotion of critical race theory in schools. Conservative think tank, Manhattan Institute created the legislative model in August. Since January 2021, 41 states have introduced legislation or taken other steps to restrict critical race theory or limit how teachers can discuss racism in classrooms, according to Education Week.

On the flip side, 17 states have expanded racism and bias education and teachings about the contributions of specific racial or ethnic groups to U.S. history, according to Chalkbeat.

A Delaware law that takes effect in the 2022-23 school year requires teachers to integrate Black history into subjects beyond social studies, and African-American history is now required in schools in Maine.

Washington implemented a law in July “dismantling institutional racism in the public school system,” requiring school officials to “develop cultural competency, diversity, equity, and inclusion standards.”

Lawmakers in Vermont have introduced a bill to require schools to create “an anti-racism certification” program.

Birmingham’s school board has pushed back against state board anti-CRT policy, passing a resolution that would create a racial equity plan in district schools just two months after the state board approved its policy. The state board policy bans “concepts that impute fault, blame, a tendency to oppress others, or the need to feel guilt or anguish to persons solely because of their race or sex.”

The resolution, approved by Birmingham City Schools, acknowledges that racism is systemic and Birmingham is not exempt from the country’s racial history.

“The board commits itself to proactively identify and address biases, practices, policies, and institutional barriers that perpetuate injustice and inequality in our schools, our community, and our state,” the resolution states.

Critical race theory, also known as CRT, concludes that racism in America is systemic, and it is a social construct meant to oppress Black and brown people.

Conservative lawmakers do not want students to be taught concepts from the theory, coined in the 1970s, that would make them feel guilt, or shame for the actions of other people of the same race. It also bans teaching students that someone is inherently bad because of their race. Republicans believe the concepts are divisive.

Critics of the anti-CRT movement say the theory itself is not being taught in most K-12 schools. Many point out there is already a lack of Black history education in the nation’s schools. They believe the CRT crisis was manufactured to “whitewash” U.S. history lessons and make them race-neutral.

“The idea that the right wing is promoting, that we have to bring in ‘all sides’ of every issue, is funny to me,” Denisha Jones, co-editor of the book Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice, said. “What is the ‘other side’ of Black Lives Matter? Is it that Black lives don’t matter? We need to examine that.”

GOP lawmakers have said the trend of legislation still allows Black history to be taught in schools, as long as the educator is not inserting their personal beliefs.

The initiative aims to block the indoctrination of specific concepts in K-12 schools and, in some instances, public colleges and universities. Fourteen states have imposed CRT-related bans and restrictions. Public officials in some states have also banned books that include segregation stories for school libraries.

After a 2020 New York Times multimedia piece, The 1619 Project, which connects capitalism to systemic racism, CRT became a hot topic. Former President Donald Trump adversely created the 1776 Commission to combat “anti-American historical revisionism” and “critical race theorists.” President Joe Biden later dissolved the commission.

The Washington Post attributes a spark in the activism against CRT to Manhattan Institute fellow Christopher Rufo. Rufo received a tip about segregated anti-bias training by the city of Seattle while working as a journalist. According to The New Yorker, Rufo found similar trainings in other organizations cited books that referenced CRT.

One of the slides was titled: “Welcome: Internalized Racial Superiority for White People,” according to Rufo. Another was titled: “What do we do in white people space?” He told Fox News the theory was being injected into government institutions, and it was “Un-American.”

“What I have discovered is that critical race theory has become, in essence, the default ideology of the federal bureaucracy and is now being weaponized against the American people,” Rufo said.

“I call on the president to immediately issue this executive order — to stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudoscientific ideology,” Rufo said in the September 2020 interview.

Rufo reportedly went to Washington, D.C., to help Trump with his executive order creating the commission shortly afterward. Although, his initial journalistic pieces on CRT did not include schools, Ruffo said he received numerous complaints from parents of students in private and public school who were concerned that too much race talk could create “mental bulimia” among their children.

Educators who actively infuse CRT in their coursework said it prepares students for the real world and provokes deep conversations about racism. Some said their approach teaches students stories of resiliency and not just oppression.

Jania Hoover, a Texas high schools social studies chair, told YES Media she included policies that the iced out Black people from home loans in a recent lesson on New Deal policies.

“Both Black and white students were blown away at the very real implications of that information. The white students didn’t feel guilty, and the Black students didn’t feel helpless,” Hoover said. “Everyone felt powerful, because they knew information that helped them understand patterns they see on a daily basis.”

Other teachers are concerned about losing their jobs if they tread too close to restricted concepts, calling the current laws too vague. Some Black teachers are reportedly leaving the profession altogether because of the movement.

Christiane Calixte, a high school junior at a Brooklyn school, who took a CRT workshop, said anti-CRT protests are “less about education and more about a projection of” parents’ “own biases and fears.” The Berkeley Carroll School, the private school Christiane attends, offers a 75-minute workshop and a semester-long elective course on CRT.

“Yes, we discussed white privilege, the fact that because of systems planted hundreds of years ago, white-identifying people have been given unfair advantages over their nonwhite counterparts,” Christiane wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. “But this discussion in no way resembled the chaos described by anti-CRT activists who argue that the concept of white privilege will lead to widespread resentment of white people.”

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