Don’t fear Critical Race Theory

In today’s soundbyte and social media posting world, it would be easy to write that the backlash against Critical Race Theory is proof of why we need Critical Race Theory, but I think it would be better to defend Critical Race Theory on its merits.



June 10, 2021 - 8:56 AM

The Los Angeles Lakers, including LeBron James and Anthony Davis, wear Black Lives Matter shirts while kneeling during the national anthem prior to a game against the Los Angeles Clippers and head coach Doc Rivers, right, at The Arena at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Photo by Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images / TNS

In today’s soundbyte and social media posting world, it would be easy to write that the backlash against Critical Race Theory is proof of why we need Critical Race Theory, but I think it would be better to defend Critical Race Theory on its merits.

First off, I have read there is a difference between Critical Race Theory and Culturally Responsive Teaching. Just to mess with us, the god of acronyms (GOA) decided to give these two the same initials — CRT. But from what I understand CRT (Critical Race Theory) is what professors argue about and CRT (Culturally Responsive Teaching) is what kids in K-12 learn and can be boiled down to — be nice to one another and respect and learn about each other’s culture.

I think both CRTs acknowledge that our nation needs to come to a better understanding about race and that we are experiencing a time when the view of U.S. history is being seen through a different, important and mostly neglected lens. And it is an upsetting view, to say the least. I read The 1619 Project and it was like getting hit by a thunderbolt, but it is a thunderbolt that has, I think, opened my eyes further to the inspirational history of how Black people in America have survived and thrived under terrible circumstances.

TO ALL THE PEOPLE reading this column, raise your hand if you can honestly say that you were paying attention in history class, and if you were, that you received a well-rounded, in-depth education about slavery. I know I didn’t. And my kids didn’t. I remember just a few years ago, my oldest son telling me his high school history teacher told him that slavery wasn’t really that bad because most slaves were treated pretty well since the slaveowners wanted to keep them healthy so they could work hard.

I was born in Tulsa, Okla. and although I didn’t grow up there, half my family is from there, and I spent considerable time in that very nice city, and I never once heard anyone in my family say anything about the Tulsa Massacre. Now, through the work of historians and dedicated citizens, not only is the Tulsa Massacre in the nation’s consciousness, but we are learning about dozens of similar attacks that went on throughout the country and have been buried under false narratives for decades. History shows us that slavery, the Civil War, the demise of Reconstruction, establishment of Jim Crow, thousands of lynchings and up to today’s police shootings, didn’t just happen. They were shaped by people and events that are part of who we are as a nation.

I mention Tulsa to show that history is about digging and digging to find the truths, and often the further we dig we find more problems, which are difficult to process. But processing those truths is the least we can do compared to those who had to try to survive under the legacy of racism. I think we owe it to those who lived through those difficulties to at least learn about them honestly. We live in a unique country because we are not bound by a common ancestry and we have many, many different and competing stories. Sometimes I think that we mostly want to focus on triumphs in our nation’s history and don’t dig too deep into the bad stuff because like some families, we gloss over pain and recriminations just to keep it together long enough to get through Thanksgiving dinner. After the pumpkin pie, we get back in the car and complain about something Uncle John said, but our feelings aren’t hurt too much, so we return the next year. By the way, read about the origins of Thanksgiving; spoiler alert, it’s not what we learned in school. In fact, it is about as opposite as it can be.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, instead of criticizing Critical Race Theory, which has become an umbrella term for a wider, deeper presentation of history in general, let’s study and celebrate what it has to tell us. Is it too hard a truth to swallow that our country was birthed on the greatest of ideals, yet has undergone some of the greatest human tragedies? Here’s an analogy out of left field (pun intended). Look at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City. Aren’t we better off having this wonderful resource helping us learn about the great stories of Black baseball players, who despite being prohibited from playing in the white leagues, carried on with style and grace? The story of Jackie Robinson is great and so are the stories of all those who preceded him. Isn’t that history worthy of talk around the dinner table? Acknowledging our history won’t hurt us; knowing more should prompt us to want to do better.

Scott Rothschild is communications editor of KASB.