critical racist theory
By: Matthew Kwong
The Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education unanimously declared segregation of American schools unconstitutional less than a century ago in 1954, overruling the “separate but equal doctrine” principle outlined in Plessy v. Ferguson only 58 years prior. As the importance of racial inclusivity in the American education system is exponentially advancing, it is crucial to integrate factual history uninfluenced by political or social bias in student education. This includes teaching students the unfiltered version of American history and its values, the facts of history unchanged by who teaches it in what class. However, with growing political belief disparities, opposite ends of the spectrum have extremely contrasting perspectives regarding the degree to which racism is embedded in society. While some argue racism is rooted within emerging beliefs of people, others argue that racism is embedded within the political system within the United States that dates back centuries. Critical Race Theory (CRT) teaches that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice but is embedded in legal systems and policies. There has been controversy within the American education system regarding whether schools should teach the truth behind racism's roots.
For example, in 2020, conservative activists began using CRT as a catchphrase, claiming it was infiltrating modern-day American classrooms. Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas who recently signed legislation to ban the teaching of CRT in the state’s public schools, said, “They’re trying to rewrite history and redesign the future of the United States.” Essentially, conservatives oppose the teaching of the CRT because it supposedly “undermines the very values and core of what America stands for.” On the opposing view, liberals view CRT as a fundamental principle of the American education system, as it teaches racism inherent in the American legal system and its history. However, these political views aren’t as surface-level as they appear. They date back centuries ago upon the founding of American principles. Upon the Puritans’ arrival in Massachusetts, they studied many ancient scientific philosophers, such as Aristotle, who believed in the superiority of Greeks compared to all non-Greeks. The lack of knowledge of the human hierarchy system at the time led to enforced racial policies based on one’s status, which was also influenced by racial features. In studying Aristotle’s philosophy, the Puritans developed their own sense of human hierarchy based on the superiority of white Christians and the inferiority of Africans. Basing this theory upon the foundations of the American government, racism is inherently rooted within society and political laws which are being debated in the American education system today.
Though the origins of racism date back centuries, the controversy of teaching history without bias still remains prevalent today. Since last year, 17 states have imposed laws or rules to limit how race and discrimination can be taught in public school classrooms, according to Education Week. Additionally, laws in some states now prohibit educators from teaching, for example, that people of any particular race or gender are inherently racist or oppressive, which liberals disagree on. Even in the states without these conservative laws, some teachers are under major scrutiny to prevent the spread of the perceived “false information” against American values.
Just last year, Texas passed a law that said that slavery and racism should be framed as deviations from the country’s founding principles. In Pennsylvania, Republican officials introduced a bill restricting classroom discussions about race and gender. Though the legislature did not pass this bill, it demonstrates the growing support for limiting the roots of racism in American history, hence the growing controversy if the history curriculum should be more restrictive regarding what it teaches.
However, from some perspectives, restricting or making the American history education system less inclusive can have its benefits. With more people believing that racism is inherently rooted in the political system according to CRT, there is growing controversy about where whites stand in the spectrum. A recent poll by the advocacy group Parents Defending Education claimed some schools were teaching that “white people are inherently privileged, while Black and other people of color are inherently oppressed and victimized,” and that “achieving racial justice and equality between racial groups requires discriminating against people based on their whiteness.” These claims regarding the critical race theory often spark controversy amongst conservatives, who argue that whites are not inherently privileged and blacks are not inherently oppressed. Though many today still say that the United States was not founded on the idea of racism and is not embedded within society, the growing relevance of CRT argues that racism is indeed inherent within the political and social body of the United States, which needs to be taught in the American education system for students to understand the truth about American history outside of teacher opinion.
Student education in the United States should emphasize not only racial diversity, as set out in Brown v Board, but also the unbiased parts of history, those necessary to preserve the foundation on which American principles were founded. Teaching American history without teaching the truth of racism’s origin is no different than teaching American history without teaching the origins of their independence. The censorship of American history is no different from political propaganda and corruption. In order to preserve American democracy, it is crucial to understand where the growing topic of racism and CRT today derives from and for students to be taught the unfiltered version of American history, the version uninfluenced by political policies designed to hide the truth of racism’s roots within the nation it resides in.