In the past six months, the term “critical race theory” has gone from a little-known academic framework to a controversial term causing shouting matches from cable news to school board meetings across the country.
In the Wrenshall School Board’s special meeting June 14, vice chair Jack Eudy asked that the issue of critical race theory be added to the agenda. He said he has been studying the issue over the last six months after it became a prominent topic on conservative news shows.
“A lot of people are trying to make white people actually ashamed of being white,” Eudy said. “They think that appropriation is the way to solve everything — in other words they get paid for what happened, for something we had nothing to do with. ... To me, it seems like they’re just transferring blame.”
At the meeting, Wrenshall Superintendent Kim Belcastro and a social studies teacher both said critical race theory is not part of the Minnesota standards of learning and is not taught at Wrenshall.
“What I want to be clear with is that critical race theory is not something that we are supposed to be teaching in our public schools and it’s not going to be added any time soon either,” Belcastro said. “We have had one parent, I know for sure, call and ask about this ... the parent did say if it’s being taught in Wrenshall, they’re pulling their kids out.”
While critical race theory is roiling school boards across the country, the issues Eudy describes in opposing its instruction at Wrenshall are a misinterpretation of the theory’s uses in the academic world, according to UMD professors Rebecca de Souza and Jeanine Weekes Schroer.
Critical race theory is a framework developed by legal scholars in the 1970s as a response to persisting evidence of racism in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
“In the aftermath of the Civil Rights Movement, everybody thought, ‘Well, that’s the end of racism, we’re now all equal and now we know if everybody would just be nice to each other and respect each other as equals, there’s no problem,’” de Souza said. “What the scholars were saying was, actually, it’s not that simple, because racism — and not just racism, but its negative effects and outcomes — is still very much prevalent.”
As the laws concerning slavery and Jim Crow-era segregation laws were overturned, those studying the enduring legacy of racism needed a more complex framework to examine the issue.
“At one point in our history, there were sort of explicit rules and laws that were written into our Constitution and to our state legislation across the country that characterized who could do what, in part based on their race,” Schroer said. “We get rid of that stuff and we still see racial disparity. CRT comes in and is trying to explain what’s going on. But if it’s not written into law, then you have to have a much more complicated and sophisticated analysis to understand how the structure works.”
The debate boiled over at a recent meeting of Loudoun County Public Schools School Board in Leesburg, Virginia, resulting in an arrest, according to the Loudoun Times-Mirror.
In North Carolina, state Sen. Phil Berger and Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, both Republicans, demanded the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public School District release video of a June address by Ibram X. Kendi — author of “How to be an Antiracist” — to district leaders, according to the Charlotte Observer. An Observer analysis of the speech showed two minutes of Kendi’s 40-minute address were dedicated to critical race theory.
“Make no mistake, critical race theory has no place in our education system," Stauber posted. "We have all been created equally in the eyes of God, and teaching our children there is a racial hierarchy is despicable. This will not solve our division, it will further it.”
Stauber’s post was in response to the Wall Street Journal report “Battle over Critical Race Theory.”
Eudy said the uproar over critical race theory has been pervasive over the last few months.
“You’d have to be a blind man not pick up on it and see what they’re talking about,” Eudy said. “You can flip on just about any conservative channel on TV and they’re talking about it. Basically, what they’ve done is stirred up the pot and they’ve got parents all up in arms.”
The controversy surrounding critical race theory being included in middle and high school curricula is confounding to Schroer, who said she only begins touching on the framework in senior-level college courses.
“It is really a complicated and sophisticated mode of analysis,” Schroer said. “Part of why it’s hard to believe that it’s being taught to kids in high school or junior high school is that I don’t think that they have all of the sort of understanding necessary to understand it.”
Eudy, for his part, asked that teachers at Wrenshall maintain a politically neutral posture in their classrooms.
“We have to find some sort of common ground, we have to find a neutral spot to be,” Eudy said.
Critical race theory, according to de Souza, doesn’t subscribe to any political ideas or stances, it is based on examining facts.
“It’s positioned as critical race theory is very ideological, but it’s really not,” de Souza said. “It is the most disciplined and factual account — they are legal scholars, they are interested in facts and on the ground kind of data. It’s far from being ideological, it’s extremely factual and empirical as a study in an academic area.”
What’s more, critical race theory doesn’t shame people for being white, according to de Souza, it’s about examining the enduring legacies of racism in the U.S.
“The goal is not to say you should feel ashamed of yourself or you should feel guilty for being white, but recognizing that even as white people — as all of us — we’ve inherited certain legacies of racism and we’re living with those (legacies),” de Souza said. “When I teach (critical race theory), my first step is to say actually, shame and guilt, they go against that, that’s counter productive. I do not need you feeling ashamed or guilty about this. This is our legacy and now we have to intervene.”