Should We Teach Critical Race Theory? from Inter-belief Conversation Café

What is the truth about America? Is it a bastion of liberty or poisoned by centuries of oppression of minorities? Could both be true? Is the key date in American history 1619 when, as Malcolm X would have said, Jamestown “landed on” kidnapped Blacks and Indigenous Americans? Or 1776, when the Declaration of Independence for all property-owning white males (at that time called “People”) was proclaimed? Should we remember George Washington as the leader of the Continental army in the American Revolution and first President of the United States of America or as a slaver and mistreater of native tribes? Should we focus on Thomas Jefferson’s spoken claim that “all men are created equal” or his unspoken treatment of Sally Hemmings? Does modern critical race theory uncover the real history of American prejudice, or is it an ill-informed leftist revision of a noble & continual American arc of justice?

Critical race theory sees racism as so deeply and programmatically embedded in society that individuals can be racist without being consciously aware of it. The location of poor neighborhoods may be the products of former racial zoning, red-lining by banks which prevented minorities from receiving mortgages, and restrictive covenants to keep them out of “nice” neighborhoods, but hasn’t there been progress? If whites are racist without knowing it, how can they be expected to change? Does critical race theory build walls instead of bridges, or does it open our eyes to deep flaws in society? Is the past so bad that reparations and major legislative reform are necessary for equity? Is such critical analysis exploited by professional activists who could not exist without overt wrongs to protest?

Is opposition to critical race theory a cover to deny the evils of our past as well as its continuation into the present? Didn’t slavery happen? Didn’t Jim Crow exist? Wasn’t Native American land stolen? Weren’t Asians excluded from immigration? Aren’t Blacks presumed by police to be more likely criminal than whites? Is it anti-American or socialist to acknowledge flaws and seek justice for those wronged? Isn’t asking for forgiveness and making restitution part of healing? But in condemning the past must we dismiss what has been accomplished? In confronting what the majority has done must we forget wrongs committed by minorities? It is said that we cannot stand the truth, but what is truth? Are we moved to “Be (the) Best” only by hearing how bad we are? Don’t we need to also hear how good we can be?

Schools are being forbidden to teach any level of critical race theory, but what guidance are they then being given on how the past is to be understood? Is patriotic mythology all that can be related? Do our kids start to hate themselves if they hear about institutional racism? (Or do their parents?) What is the role of any critical examination of history? We may love Paul Revere whether he rode or not, but don’t we need to know who else rode? Can we handle a nuanced past? (Or was it less nuanced than most people think?) As we study “Indian” boarding schools, should we examine whether some looked back at the experience with nostalgia while others were permanently scarred? Is there only one past — either glittering Happy Days or Chariots swinging low? How do we deal with an American history that must be painted both in shades of gray and wildly diverse colors?

It’s said that a society should be judged by its prisons. Does what happens to our most disadvantaged Americans tell us what we really are? Is it our mansions or our hovels that reveal whether we’ve fulfilled the social contract implied in our founding Declaration and Constitution? Do we count our billionaires or our homeless to calculate the Wealth of our Nation? Is it enough to relentlessly look for the negative? Does shame & regret banish pride & hope? If we rely on flawed human beings to bring us justice, peace, and freedom, does just saying we are prisoners of racist and sexist institutions & laws bring progress, or offer an excuse to erect & enact more of the same?

On Monday, October 18 from 7-9 PM by Zoom, Inter-belief Conversation Café will try to critically ask if America is salvageable through awareness. Agreements of open-mindedness, acceptance, curiosity, discovery, sincerity, brevity, and confidentiality will perhaps provide malice toward none and charity towards all. If not, maybe we’ll have a theory to explain why.

Through the magic of Zoom, Inter-belief Conversation Café discusses the timely topic of what we should teach about the past. The Zoom link is http://www.zoom.us/j/99973128471.