America just celebrated its 245th birthday amid growing polarization about the truth of its origins, including the genocide of indigenous peoples and the enslavement of kidnapped Africans by its European settlers.
The legacy of those atrocities persists to this day.
Nonetheless, North Carolina legislators are expected to vote soon on a GOP-led bill that proposes to make white people feel less uncomfortable with the negative aspects of this country’s history.
Among its provisions, House Bill 324 seeks to prohibit public school teachers from teaching “that the belief that the United States is a meritocracy is an inherently racist or sexist belief” or that the country “was created by members of a particular race or sex for the purpose of oppressing members of another race or sex.”
The bill passed the House in May by a 66-48 vote along party lines and has been referred to the Senate Education/Higher Education Committee.
Supporters of the bill claim that the legislation’s intent is to forbid the teaching that one race or sex is inherently superior, or that someone by virtue of their race or sex is inherently racist or sexist, or that someone’s moral character is necessarily determined by their race or sex—which are all provisions of the bill as well.
Critics say the bill’s true intent is to undermine critical race theory (CRT), an academic concept that views systemic racism as a fixture in the country’s DNA. HB 324 formally joins a chorus of right-wing fear echoing in statehouses across the country.
So far, six states have passed anti-CRT legislation and another 20, including North Carolina, have introduced or plan to introduce similar legislation, according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution.
In Durham, the city council and school board each adopted resolutions opposing HB 324.
“It’s a manufactured issue and a manufactured concern that’s really a partisan issue being used to divide people,” Natalie Beyer, a Durham County school board member, said. “It’s not based in fact, and it’s being used by the right wing to drum up their base without having any basis in factual concerns.”
N.C. Central University law professor Irving Joyner also said the CRT debate was “manufactured” and “created to distract, mislead and politicize efforts to assist people to understand and remedy the racial bias, antagonism and discrimination which continue to exist in this country.
“It is also another justification for attempts to re-write or hide the real racial history which has guided and continues to guide the thinking of too many political leaders and their followers,” Joyner added.
A prominent opponent of CRT is Mark Robinson, the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, who believes the discipline is part of a growing “anti-American” sentiment and rooted in socialism.
Those who oppose the bill disagree.
“We try to be leaders for truth and equity in school districts across North Carolina; equity in the Durham community and across the country as we wrestle with the painful truths of our history and work towards reconciliation moving forward,” Beyer said.
Joyner, the NCCU law professor, noted that CRT has been “a very popular course over the years” at the law school.
“By law, there was racial discrimination in this country and it broadly provided negative impacts upon its intended victims,” he said. “Some of the most foundational cases in American law centered around the law’s treatment of racial minorities. The understanding of this treatment begins with a reading of the U.S. Constitution and is confirmed in the Dred Scott and other race-based pronouncement decisions.”
If adopted, HB 324 would render teachers inflexible and leave students ignorant of the context that has created racial disparities in health, wealth, and education, Durham council member DeDreana Freeman said.
“It’s almost like they’re trying to whitewash critical race theory and why we need it,” Freeman said.
“It’s not that Black people choose to be unhealthy or choose to be uneducated.”
Chief among the points in the school board’s resolution opposing the legislation were disagreements with the bill’s requirement that public schools not promote the belief that America was created by white men to oppress others.
The school board’s resolution asserted that “a sound education, including accurate facts about all aspects of American history including systemic racism and discrimination, is guaranteed for every North Carolina student in our state’s Constitution.”
The resolution also noted that CRT is a valid discipline that seeks to understand how racism has shaped the country’s laws and how those lives impact the lives of non-white people.
Critical race theory, the resolution states, “does not attack individual students for their privileges, but rather makes them aware of how different systems in the United States discriminate against others.”
The school board’s resolution also noted that in 2019 the state’s board of education adopted a strategic plan that defined equity as a guiding principle and recently approved social studies standards “to ensure that a more comprehensive, accurate and honest history was taught to all students, including teaching on racism, identity and discrimination.”
“It’s important for teachers to be able to teach children to think critically from primary sources,” Beyer, the school board member, said. “And as we are more honest about our history we can learn from the past. We don’t censor teachers. We don’t ban books. We teach children to be anti-racist.”
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