Critical race theory is a GOP bogeyman
Last weekend, Derek Matthews, the founder of the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow, asked GOP state legislator and GOP governor hopeful Rebecca Dow to pull a campaign ad that spoke of “critical race theory”.
Standing on a stage with Dow in front of thousands of Indigenous people who had flocked to the Albuquerque event from across North America and beyond after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Matthews’ request was silenced the crowd except for a handful of applause and whistles.
Dow ignored Matthews and welcomed the Gathering of Nations attendees without responding to his request.
It was an awkward moment.
I want to join Matthews in asking Dow to take down the ad.
Here’s what I’d say if I were next to her: Stop talking about critical race theory, Rep. Dow. You resort to one of the oldest election tricks in American history: stoking racial fear of white people to win an election. And you do it by repeating Republican talking points. From my interactions with you over the years, I know you are better than that.
In the campaign ad that Matthews asked to be taken down, Dow calls critical race theory – which is not taught in New Mexico public schools – “racist and un-American,” part of “ the woke agenda” that “radical progressives want”. Then she repeats an idea you’ll probably hear this year in Georgia, Connecticut, or Texas from a Republican hopeful running for office: Critical race theory will teach school kids to hate themselves.
From everything I’ve read, critical race theory is taught at the college and graduate levels, not in public K-12 schools. And it focuses on how laws, regulations, cultural behavioral patterns and institutions interact over time to create different outcomes for different populations, in terms of health, finances, incarceration rates, etc., and not on individual bigotry.
Dow’s ad seems intended to comfort parents more than their children. Specifically, to ease the fears of white adults who don’t know how to talk to their kids about race after learning about American history and coming to the people they trust most in the world — their parents — to have a conversation. authentic and honest.
Talking about race can be uncomfortable. I have been the recipient of more than a few pointed questions from my own children about growing up in the Deep South.
Dow seems to be saying: I’m going to shield you from those uncomfortable conversations, or at least reduce the chances of you having them.
No thanks. I am more than capable of talking to my children about race and its role in American history.
I would ask Dow and anyone else terrified of critical race theory to read the story of Brittany Murphree, a law student featured by Mississippi Today earlier this year after enrolling in “Law 743: Critical Race Theory” as a student at the University of Mississippi Law School.
At one point in the story, Murphree, a young Republican “raised in…one of the most Republican counties in one of the most Republican states,” learns that the Mississippi Legislature is considering legislation that would ban discussion of critical race theory in K-12 schools and universities.
Of the history:
The more Murphree thought about the bill, the angrier she got. In just two weeks of taking Bill 743, she had been introduced to ideas she had never considered before. She learned that there were activists and academics who were critical of school integration and the way it had been implemented. She gained a new perspective on racial progress in America. And he still had a whole semester left of questions that no longer seemed daunting but urgent to learn—biases implicit in policing, affirmative action, and reparations.
“Why are they so afraid that people are just theorizing and thinking,” she thought. “We’re not going to become, like, communists. Relax.
Murphree’s reaction to the Mississippi legislation is tied to New Mexico.
Dow proudly tells viewers in her ad that she wrote “the bill to ban (critical race theory) in our schools. To protect children from radical indoctrination.
She refers to House Bill 91, which was introduced during this year’s legislative session. The two-page bill died a silent and quick death. Most of the two pages are devoted to defining what “critical race theory” is. The bill does not establish a framework for an administrative process to identify or control CRT in public schools across the state in order to eradicate it. Or state who is responsible for this vigilance.
The 10 examples the bill uses to define “critical race theory” are one-themed versions – CRT stands for any theory or ideology that teaches that one race is superior to another or the cause of oppression on the other, as if public school teachers are, as I write this, indoctrinating their students en masse, demanding urgent action.
But the greatest number of questions I have relate to number seven, which says that critical race theory includes instructions that “create a feeling or feelings of discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological, physical or any other type of distress in a person on account of the race or sex attributed to that person”.
Where to start ? How do we measure a feeling? And where exactly on the spectrum of emotion is the threshold for deciding whether or not a particular feeling deserves punishment? And who decides? The class teacher? The main? The school board? The Department of Public Education?
Does this mean that a child who mentions in a class discussion the racial discrimination his parents, grandparents and ancestors faced would be sent to the principal’s office? And the students, what about them? Would talking about moments of sexism provoke censorship?
If Dow’s bill became law, I’m curious how public school teachers would handle teaching about slavery and the Jim Crow era in the Deep South or discrimination against Hispanics and Indigenous peoples in the New Mexico – all results from a widespread belief among Anglos in their racial superiority.
So many questions.
Honestly, I feel the same way I did in October when I interviewed a candidate for the school board in Rio Rancho, where I live.
I spent most of my adulthood thinking about race and the role it plays in daily life and politics. Partly because from an early age, it became clear to me that race influenced most everyday interactions in the Georgia of the 60s and 70s where I grew up. But also because after 30 years of moving across the country, I realized that the myth that the South is an exception when it comes to race is just a fiction that white people elsewhere in the country like to tell themselves to feel better.
It was with this conviction and this genuine curiosity that I called him to try to understand why he considered the diversity and equity programs and the CRT so terrifying, so racist. It was an unsatisfying conversation. He didn’t help clarify why he believed what he was doing. He just repeated the talking points and acknowledged that I had fair points when I asked him questions, almost as if he had never considered them before.
Six months after that interview, as election year heats up, I still don’t understand why talking about how race and gender shape the world we live in terrifies so many people. And why in 2022, stoking white fear is still an effective political strategy.
Honestly, I feel like I’m back in the Georgia I grew up in so many years ago.