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Critical race theory is a response to the post-civil rights movement idea that the effects of discrimination and inequality on Black people were no longer the problem they had once been. CRT has its origins in the 1970s with the writing of Derrick Bell, a civil rights lawyer who was the first Black person to teach at Harvard Law School. Bell’s work was carried forward by lawyer and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw, who organized the first critical race theory workshop in 1989. CRT was little known outside of academic circles until the murder of George Floyd in May 2020. The oft-repeated broadcasts of Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes were followed by anti-racism protests across the country. A yet again abrupt reemergence of racism in the national consciousness brought forth a flood of books, articles and interviews on this ever-present reality that is part of our national identity. In this environment, it didn’t take long before CRT became a household term after 50 years of relative obscurity.

The sudden awareness of critical race theory was followed quickly by a backlash against it. Those opposed to CRT, often but not always conservative Republicans, claimed that it would divide people into groups based on their race, encourage intolerance and cause Americans, in the words of Florida governor Ron DeSantis, to “hate their country and to hate each other.” The Heritage Foundation, a conservative organization, concluded without any supporting evidence that “when followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based.”

It appears this resistance to CRT has made its way to Westerly. Mr. Robert Chiaradio Jr. has claimed in the May 15, 2021, edition of The Westerly Sun that “Critical race theory is so insulting to people of color who work hard every single day to provide for their family because it tells people of color that the only way they are going to succeed is because of an engineered outcome.”

When Mr. Chiaradio uses the term “engineered outcome” he is alluding to the criticism leveled against CRT by Donald Trump and others that it is a “Marxist doctrine.” This charge has its origins in the critical legal studies movement that immediately preceded and influenced CRT. CLS was itself an offshoot of Marxist-oriented critical theory, which has as its aim the “unmasking of an ideology falsely justifying some form of social or economic oppression and, in so doing, to contribute to the task of ending that oppression.” There is nothing in CRT asserting that people of color can succeed only through manipulation and subterfuge.

Mr. Chiaradio also expressed his opinion that “while the country cannot run from its history, most of that is in the past. Most of those skeletons are buried.” This response is often heard whenever an attempt is made to confront the reality of racism as a part of America’s story. It is a significant part of the reason CRT exists in the first place. In the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw: “Critical race is an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” Crenshaw makes the further point that just acknowledging the existence of racism throughout our country’s history is seen by some as unpatriotic and anti-American.

Does rejecting CRT mean that any attempt to confront the reality of the past will also be rejected? Would those who oppose CRT also object to a history teacher discussing Jim Crow laws? Would the Tulsa Race Massacre be off-limits? Could a teacher teach a class the truth that the Civil War was fought over slavery? Could a class freely and honestly discuss the murder of Emmitt Till, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing? Would an English teacher be forbidden to teach the poetry of Langston Hughes, the essays of James Baldwin or the novels of Richard Wright and Toni Morrison, among others, because they all mention racism?

Critical race theory confronts the fact that racism has been and is now a part of American society. It challenges the beliefs, customs and laws that have allowed racism to be as much a part of our environment as the air we breathe. It seeks to help people recognize and evaluate the causes and effects of social inequality derived from racism in their own experience and the experience of others.

Is it the goal of those who oppose CRT to pretend that the tragic effects of racism never happened and, despite the progress that has been made since the 1960s, are not happening still? How would the future of this country be affected if CRT opponents get their way and banish this, or any, attempt to understand the role racism has played in making us who we are as a nation?

The writer lives in Westerly.

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(1) comment

Handymanjack

My two cents ( Ok, maybe a dime's worth) on this is that it's never a good idea to champion ignorance over knowledge. Instructing your young about history is important . But it has to be warts and all. Otherwise warts won't be recognized if they appear in the future. I once met a Westerly high graduate . I mentioned the word Nword and he asked " Nword? What's a Nword?" I thought he was kidding but he hadn't a clue. I spent the next twenty minutes schooling him and his pal about WW2 , Nword and death camps. They were genuinly stunned ,almost as if I were decribing a horror movie....which, in a way I was. So teach. Teach them well. Heyerdahl said " Progress is Man's ability to complicate simplicity." True. But some some things need not be complicated. How can one live better tomorrows if you won't learn from your yesterdays? The only ' theroy' Americans should race to be critical of is that not informing the young is fine . No high school graduate should ever utter " What's a Nword" Racists love the uninformed. Because it's in ignorance that they quietly bloom. Warts and all. Or don't call yourself an educator. PS. I had to edit. This forum said the word I wanted to use ( think ' knot' and ' zee') was ' profanity'. And you wonder why young grads don't know what one is....unbelievable.

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