On Banning Critical Race Theory in Schools: “The Pursuit of a More Just World” Requires Confronting Racism and Privilege

What kind of schools and worlds are we attempting to create if reflecting, deconstructing and confronting racism and privilege aren’t regular practices?

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Twelve states so far have enacted anti-CRT laws for K-12 teachers and even universities in some states, either through legislation or other actions.(Pxhere / Creative Commons)

Journey to Justice: A Critical Race Theory Primer” is a joint initiative between Ms. magazine, the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA) and the Karson Institute for Race, Peace & Social Justice. The primer includes articles, essays, lesson plans, an annotated bibliography and a COMloquium conversation that addresses and examines the perils of teaching critical race theory from kindergarten to college settings. Enjoy the sample below. To explore the full primer, head here.


This summer, the matter of Falcon District 49 in Colorado Springs moving to ban critical race theory (CRT) was brought to my attention by a friend who knows my son has attended school in the district since first grade and my daughter since kindergarten. She also knows I’ve taught CRT courses at Colorado College for over a decade. 

Shortly after, I submitted a letter to the Board of Education Directors to support family, friends and colleagues. 

First, I acknowledged the two resolutions to which I had the least visceral reaction: 

  • Schools shall not discipline students differently based on race. 
  • Schools shall not engage in racial stereotyping, including ascribing character traits, values, moral and ethical codes, privileges, status or beliefs based on race.

From whom and from what will they have learned how to identify racialized discipline? From whom and from what will they have learned how to identify racial stereotyping? (Not to mention the implications of white people racially disciplining and stereotyping people of color, most often more severe than what is referred to as “reverse racism.”)

Then:

  • Neither schools nor instructors shall have students participate in class or complete assignments based on race.
  • Schools may not force individuals to admit privilege or to “reflect,” “deconstruct” or “confront” their racial identities.

I have many questions about what kinds of classroom discussions and assignments the resolution authors imagined or saw. Also, the end goal of CRT is not to force anyone to admit privilege merely—but what kind of schools and worlds are we attempting to create if reflecting, deconstructing and confronting aren’t regular practices?

Finally:

  • Schools may not use race as a consideration when hiring or administering academic programs or evaluation systems.

I especially wonder why affirmative action is no longer necessary when I consider the racial makeup of the district’s board, teachers and administrators. It’s also alarming that only one woman serves on the board and is their only member of color. 

Further, their conversations relied a great deal on the way Education Week defined CRT: “Racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

However, as Gary Peller, professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center, pointed out, “CRT is not a racialist ideology that declares all whites to be privileged oppressors, and CRT is not taught in public schools.”

He reminds us the common starting point for CRT is “that racial power was not eliminated by the successes of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s” and that “‘Whites Only’ signs may be gone, but racial power remains in myriad social practices—now couched in the language of race-neutrality.”

Additionally, “not merely” is an operative phrase. racism does manifest in individual bias and prejudice, and racism is embedded in legal systems and policies. According to the American Bar Association, “Evidence of differential treatment and injustice in the ‘justice’ system is overwhelming.”

Even though Black people make up only 13.4 percent of the population, they comprise 22 percent of the fatal police shootings, 47 percent of the wrongful conviction exonerations and 35 percent of the individuals executed by the death penalty. We are incarcerated in state prisons “at five times the rate of whites.”


Black people make up just over 13 percent of the population—but 22 percent of the fatal police shootings, 47 percent of the wrongful conviction exonerations and 35 percent of the individuals executed by the death penalty.


They tell us “the problems are historically rooted, pervasive and ongoing so that it is even more critical to take action now and in the future.”

Still, I noted serious intellectuals welcome serious critiques of CRT, even though it’s exhausting to address ill-intended misinterpretations and misrepresentations continually. For example, storytelling is a CRT methodology I practice and appreciate. However, some argue we should be careful about relying on storytelling more than empirical research. I understand that as I simultaneously caution us to think carefully about whose stories we do and don’t believe and how race and racism impact that, along with gender, sexuality, class, and other ways of being.

I ended the letter with sincere hope and a call to focus on serious engagement with intellectual work like CRT rather than ill-informed, ill-intentioned talking heads. 

I never received a response.

Then, the district passed the resolution to ban critical race theory. Yet, I remain hopeful. And I remain committed to creating and nurturing spaces in which careful thought can be developed in service to deliberate action and the pursuit of a more just world.

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About

Heidi R. Lewis is director and associate professor of feminist and gender studies and inaugural coordinator of early career faculty development programs at Colorado College. Her areas of specialization are feminist theory, politics and discourse (particularly Black feminism), hip hop culture and discourse (with an emphasis on rap music), and critical media studies. Her first book, In Audre’s Footsteps: Transnational Kitchen Table Talk in Berlin, co-edited by Dana Asbury with Jazlyn Andrews is forthcoming in Ingeborg Bachmann Prize-winner Sharon Dodua Otoo’s "Witnessed" series (Edition Assemblage).