People of Color Are Not Background Characters in U.S. History

by Havann Brown, editor-in-chief

JANUARY 2022  Too often, people attempt to sanitize and erase the uncomfortable parts of history. Conversations about systemic oppression are often ignored in schools and, in some cases, banned. For example, Arizona teachers were told they could face a $5,000 penalty if they allowed classroom discussions on “controversial” topics, such as racism. In Texas, teachers were advised to include books that offer opposing viewpoints of the Holocaust in their curriculum. Educators are being asked to reason with some of history’s greatest atrocities in an attempt to provide both sides of an issue. How does one show diverse a perspective of the Holocaust or slavery?

Critical race theory (CRT) is the latest topic to be banned from classrooms. As a complex legal theory, CRT states that “U.S. social institutions (e.g., the criminal justice system, education system, labor market, housing market, and healthcare system) are laced with racism embedded in laws, regulations, rules, and procedures that lead to differential outcomes by race,” according to the Brookings Institution. Opponents, however, have seized upon the phrase to describe anything they view as an intrusion of equity and inclusion into our education system. Despite popular belief, critical race theory is taught primarily in college-level courses. According to a survey conducted by the Association of American Educators, 96 percent of kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers said their schools did not require them to teach critical race theory.

Eight states have outlawed the teaching of CRT, a concept they believe will negatively influence their K through 12 students. In Ohio, House Bills 322 and 327 were presented to the House State and Local Government Committee. The bills seek to ban “divisive language” about the role of racism in American history and withhold funding from schools that act against it. The bans of critical race theory from the classroom are attempts to avoid the responsibility to depict historical and current racial inequities accurately.

Nearly 20 states have introduced or plan to introduce legislation banning concepts related to critical race theory. The legislation bans discussions about topics ranging from unconscious bias and privilege to discrimination and oppression. Additionally, opponents of CRT are hoping to stop the teaching of books that explore anti-racism. Photo by Havann Brown, editor-in-chief.

Topics people are calling critical race theory is simply acknowledging the fact that this country’s origins are rooted in prejudice. Politicians are framing discussions of these so-called “divisive concepts” as an attack on students when in reality, talking about America’s true history would only help them. The same legislators poorly attempting to redefine education standards can’t even define critical race theory or name the scholars behind it. Instead of educating themselves, they have manufactured a fight to keep accurate history out of schools because it might make certain students “feel bad.” If someone feels attacked after hearing about the racist history of their ancestors, they should do some self-reflection, not blame their history teacher.

As a student, I worry about the future of education. Will our country reach a point where people no longer learn about the Trail of Tears or Jim Crow Laws because they are deemed too controversial? At Bio-Med Science Academy, multiple teachers have told me they would quit their jobs if legislation passes that undermines their ability to educate students effectively. If good teachers leave, who will fill their place? Efforts to mask the events of the past hurt students and teachers alike, further weakening the educational system.

Concepts students learn in their classrooms greatly influence how they interact within society. Rather than preparing teachers to equip students with the necessary resources to navigate the world, politicians are preventing progress. Bans against CRT deny white students the opportunity to grapple with our country’s complex history. In addition, it subjects students of color to an educational experience that does not fully acknowledge their existence. Without addressing it in the classroom, some students will never have the skills or the context to help them understand why disparities exist between groups of people.

Critical race theory is not the enemy. The censorship of history only limits students’ exposure to inquiry and critical thinking. Teaching accurate history means teaching the truth. If the truth is rooted in racism, systemic oppression, and atrocities, then it needs to be shared.                    

People of color are not background characters in U.S. history, nor do we exist to perpetuate a false narrative. We are essential to the American story and deserve to have our accurate history told.

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