White parents wailing in front of school board officials about critical race theory likely don't know what it really is and misinformation about the framework is "harmful to the country and harmful to democracy," according to a panel hosted by the King Center.
During the panel, Bernice King, CEO of the King Center said discussing critical race theory (CRT) is a necessary conversation for the sake "all of our children and their right to inclusive and equitable education and educational environments."
King said the goal of the conversation is to set the record straight, help to dismantle misinformation and help the public become more effective advocates to ensure that "no child experiences an education that denies the truth of our collective history and how it influences our present day reality."
"We cannot allow our children's education around this nation's history to be caught up in divisive schemes that have emerged from a backlash to the racial awakening and drive to push for racial equity and inclusion that occurred in our world on the heels of the George Floyd killing," King said.
The event, Beloved Community Talks — Critical Race Theory: Dismantling Misinformation, was streamed on Facebook and YouTube. Panelists included King and co-host Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., and Kendall Thomas, the Nash Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture and Jacqueline Battalora, an author, critical race educator and former police officer.
Clashes about CRT and equity in public schools have dominated recent school board races in Iowa and elsewhere as conservative candidates politicized CRT to take over school boards — although experts have repeatedly said the theory taught in some law schools is not taught in K-12 schools. Iowa, one of at least 12 states that passed anti-CRT legislation, House File 802, which bans trainings and teachings about "divisive concepts," including "that the United States of America and the State of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist" and "that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex," among several other concepts.
Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said CRT was created by faculty of color in the 1980s as a way to think about injustice in society and understand how laws perpetuated discrimination.
CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools, the panelists said.
King asked the panel to define critical race theory for the hundreds of people who livestreamed the event.
Thomas said CRT began as a way to "make sense of this practice where you have the law saying that everybody is equal and yet being content with entrenched inequality and in some important respects, actually being complicit in reproducing inequality."
"So it's this basic contradiction between the law on the books and the rights granted by law on the books and the absence of that, in fact," he said.
CRT is typically taught to students in their second or third year of law school at Columbia, he said.
Nelson said while CRT isn't being taught in K-12 or even all law schools, that doesn't mean it's harmful or "a bad thing" to put before children and undergraduate students.
"It's because it's a rigorous educational theory that's aimed at graduate students and law students in particular, not because it's harmful," Nelson said.
CRT helps society understand the role of race in present day inequities and "allows us to be able to confront those inequities," Nelson said.
Since CRT isn't being taught in K-12 settings, what are recent laws against it trying to ban and what is the agenda, Nelson asked.
The laws seek to shut down conversations about race and shut down people from reading books and singing songs that in any way touch on race, Thomas said. People who are against it are also opposed to "wokeness" and "cancel culture," he said.
He said a poorly educated populace can't understand the ways the laws and policies of the country have been "structurally positioned to disadvantage not just people of color, but poor and working class white Americans."
Battalora asked if viewers have watched recent clips of packed school board meetings flooded with parents protesting against CRT.
" . . . where you have white women in tears, saying, 'You will not give my child critical race theory' and invoking this fragile white child and white female which of course has a rich deep history in the racial formation of this nation," Battalora said.
She called the exclusion of historical texts a modern day "book burning." It's unhealthy to lie about history to white children and children of color and to "exclude pieces of U.S. history," she said.
Thomas said groups that have attacked CRT include 1776 Action, The Heritage Foundation and the Judicial Crisis Network.
He said critical race theory misinformation "obscures our understanding" of what's really going on.
"This is an attack on democracy — that is weaponizing illiteracy — to create scenes, like the public school board meetings, where you have parents crying, terrorized by the specter of something that they don't even understand — and that is a tragedy for our democracy," he said.
King asked the panel how the public can push through the "noise" and work to combat the misinformation without being "combative." Battalora urged people to go to school board meetings and she joined the other panelists in calling the opposition to CRT "anti-democracy" instead of anti-CRT.
Thomas said Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon in 1962, talked about the success that African American people had due to "the steady decline of crippling illiteracy." He said we need to know our history, draw strength from it and empower a "love movement," which is committed to a love of knowledge and a love of country.
There are urgent challenges around literacy and democratic literacy, and racial literacy can be a bridge between those two things, he said.
Nelson said some people are uninformed, "frankly ignorant" and have bought into the propaganda unwittingly and need to be educated, while others have an agenda. She said people must fight the disinformation, expose it, name it and point out the actors who are behind it.
"First and foremost, we need to stop calling this anti-CRT and call it anti-truth, which is what it is. It's anti-democratic. It's anti-literacy," she said during Tuesday's panel. "We've heard so many other ways to explain this. And we also need to diagnose what this is."
Tags: #Race #BCTonCRT #TheKingCenter #CRT #CriticalRaceTheory #Democracy #GeorgeFloyd #BelovedCommunityTalks
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