Schools are a frequent battleground for American culture wars, and the current confrontation over critical race theory is the most recent manifestation of this. Arkansas, Idaho, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah recently proposed legislation to either withhold public funding for schools that teach the impact of racism on American society and its institution, or to prohibit it. squarely in the Kindergarten to Grade 12 public curriculum. More than a dozen other states are preparing to take similar action.
Critical Race Theory – a framework for understanding the impact of racism in the United States – is the culture war of the day, mobilizing conservatives to support everything from executive orders banning diversity training, to fairness and to inclusion of candidates for local school boards promising to save our children. of its harmful effects. Until this year, most of us had never heard of this new concept gaining so much credit and notoriety. Why? Because people who live with the reality of racism don’t need a theory to believe it. And until recently, most white audiences lacked the will to recognize, understand, and repair racism in its current manifestations.
The context was very different in the 1970s when Derrick Bell, the first full African American professor at Harvard Law School, proposed a critical theory of race to make sense of the political and legal realities of people of color. It rests on two surprisingly uncontroversial pillars: (1) the intractability of racism in America and (2) the need to listen to voices “down the drain” to paint a clear picture of how our laws work – or does not work – for those who do not have certain levels of privileges and access.
When Bell introduced critical race theory 40 years ago, race was the primary indicator of health, housing, criminal justice, education, and child welfare outcomes. Unfortunately, race remains one of the main predictors in all of these categories today. Far from a radical ideology or a “sinister worldview,” Critical Race Theory is a precise explanation of the generational legacy of racism and its impact on communities of color. It is an explanation of American reality, not a proposal for a new American ideology.
Tackling critical race theory is not to exorcise a demonic worldview, but to recognize the data and lived experiences of those who are often overlooked. At a recent Arkansas Judicial Committee meeting, Senator Joyce Elliott said that “if I am part of a marginalized group and I keep telling you that our laws are not equal and you continue to dismiss my experience and tell me, yeah, it’s … it’s like you’re erased. “
Even in the Christian Church, where human dignity and love are fundamental biblical principles, the war on critical race theory is ultimately a rejection of the realities of Christian brothers and sisters. In 2019, Southern Baptist Convention President JD Greear appointed 10 members to the SBC Resolutions Committee, six of whom were people of color, to clarify emerging theological, social and practical topics in order to “advance our testimony. and our cooperative mission â. Critical race theory was endorsed at the committee level, but ultimately overturned by six white pastors from SBC and Greear seminary. Curtis Woods, a black pastor who was chairman of the committee that put the resolution to a vote, has come under heavy attack for supporting it as a valuable concept for the church. âSBC’s denial of CRT opens Pandora’s box by challenging all kinds of theories, including in areas such as philosophy, sociology and the hard sciences,â Woods said. He also said the CRT is a useful tool for giving language and clarity to the experiences of black Americans, which he details in a chapter of a book on racism he wrote for the SBC. Some of the members of the committee of colored and black pastors have since left the SBC.
As a black Christian, I am particularly troubled by the actions of those who use critical race theory and their faith to ignore and denounce the voices of those who are “the little ones.” Rather than standing alongside their siblings to tackle the real problem of racism today, too many Christians are distracted by a dreadful ideology that is not a problem in the first place.
The ideology that should galvanize all of our attention and effort is the imaginary racial hierarchy that produces negative dividends for so many individuals and communities in this country.
Reverend Esau McCaulley, author of “Reading While Black,” says “the way forward is not a return to the naivety of a previous generation, but a journey through difficult questions while being informed from the roots of the tradition that has been bequeathed to us. “
Until we listen with empathy and curiosity to the voices, data and theories that expose the racialized barriers that keep America from becoming what it promises to be for everyone, how will we really get there? ?