The Arkansas legislature did its part in the recent legislative session to contribute to the national Republican Party’s effort to play the race card.
Our legislature didn’t ban the teaching of the 1619 project, though it tried, but it did pass the Trent Garner Cancel Culture Law to prevent state agencies from talking about divisive racial concepts. Though public schools were exempted, the state Education Department, which oversees course content, was not.
All these laws address a problem that doesn’t really exist.
An article today in the New York Times on the Republican political effort. The idea is to make Democrats look like supporters of racial minorities by insisting on talking about things like the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Critical race theory? It isn’t being taught in Arkansas public schools. I doubt if a Republican Arkansas legislator could define the term. Certainly not Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, here with some of her usual demagoguery.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has joined a multistate coalition of 20 attorneys general urging the Biden Administration to reconsider educational proposals aimed at imposing the teaching of critical race theory (CRT), the 1619 Project, and other similar curricula into America’s classrooms. Such goals are woven into a proposed new rule by the U.S. Department of Education establishing priorities for grants in American History and Civics Education programs.
The Biden administration is imposing nothing, though it has committed to diversity and has repealed a Trump-era rule prohibiting any mention of critical race theory, whatever it is, in programs supported by federal money. The New York Times summarizes the debate, largely political gasoline to fuel white, resentful Republican base voters.
Republicans have focused their attacks on the influence of “critical race theory,” a graduate school framework that has found its way into K-12 public education. The concept argues that historical patterns of racism are ingrained in law and other modern institutions, and that the legacies of slavery, segregation and Jim Crow still create an uneven playing field for Black people and other people of color.
Many conservatives portray critical race theory and invocations of systemic racism as a gauntlet thrown down to accuse white Americans of being individually racist. Republicans accuse the left of trying to indoctrinate children with the belief that the United States is inherently wicked.
The Washington Post also took a crack at the topic.
In reality, there is no consensus on whether or how much critical race theory informs schools’ heightened focus on race. Most teachers do not use the term “critical race theory” with students, and they generally do not ask them to read the work of legal scholars who use that framework.
Some lessons and anti-racism efforts, however, reflect foundational themes of critical race theory, particularly that racism in the United States is systemic. The New York Times’s landmark 1619 Project, which addresses slavery’s role in shaping the nation, also has an associated school curriculum.
It seems simple to me. Racism continues to exist in America. Centuries of discriminatory practice have left a damaging legacy. Devotion to the Lost Cause to preserve slavery remains a dominant force in Arkansas politics, with new laws in the recent legislative session to preserve tributes to the traitors. The threat to white privilege is a powerful political force. Republicans prefer that these topics not be discussed, certainly not in front of impressionable young people. They prefer that fewer people vote because when voters of color turn out in large numbers, it usually works against Republican candidates.
With more classroom discussions, more students might learn about the Elaine Massacre. Or the Negro Boys Industrial School fire. Or the disparate treatment of Black defendants in the criminal justice system. Or lynchings of innocents. Or that life on the plantation wasn’t a love affair between master and the enslaved, with Songs of the South as a soundtrack.