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Down with CRT?

George Lloyd protest

“George Floyd protest” by vpickering
Critical Race Theory, or CRT, is an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society — from education and housing to employment and healthcare. Critical Race Theory recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice. It is embedded in laws, policies and institutions that uphold and reproduce racial inequalities.
— Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

Critical Race Theory, or CRT, became the new rallying cry for people on the far right in 2021. A year before, there were rumblings against the highly academic and legal framework. But the rhetoric reached an entirely new level when then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order in 2020 prohibiting federal agencies from conducting diversity, equity and inclusion training. He justified his order by claiming that such training represented reverse racism and were part of the left’s efforts to indoctrinate people into its way of thinking through CRT.[i]

By falsely calling any discussion of racism, white supremacy, inclusion and/or equity CRT, those spreading this false narrative have succeeded in convincing even moderates – and not a few liberals – that the concept is divisive and harmful for children and harmful for American society as a whole.

Causing Harm and Shame

According to Florida Governor Gov. Ron DeSantis, CRT teaches kids to hate each other and is “state-sponsored racism.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz suggests that CRT causes white children to feel shame, shame that some of his fellow conservatives say can cause mental illness in these children. According to Spectrum News, Cruz tells fellow conservatives that they can spot CRT in texts that use the word “equity” frequently.

Armed with this misinformation, thousands of parents have stormed school committee meetings across the United States. The situation became so extreme that Reuter’s news agency commissioned a study on the issue. It reveals that more than half of the 31 school boards contacted said they had added extra security at meetings, limited public comment or held virtual meetings when in-person gatherings became too chaotic. (The 31 school boards contacted were just a microcosm of those actually affected.) In Loudoun County, Va., a letter was sent to one of the adult children of Brenda Sheridan, a school board member. It threatened to kill Sheridan and her child unless she left the board.

Sadly, the disruption has been rewarded. According to a Time.org April 14, 2022, article, 42 states have introduced bills or taken other steps that would restrict teaching CRT or limit how teachers can discuss racism and sexism. Seventeen states have imposed these bans and restrictions either through legislation or other avenues. Some ask parents, teachers and/or administrators to “turn in” teachers or professors who teach CRT or some of its supposed concepts. Voice of America reports that a bill passed in Indiana “permits parents to bring complaints and legal action against schools.”

But is CRT actually causing this harm and shame or is it our country’s inability at best and outright refusal at worst to deal honestly with racism and the long-term results of white supremacy?

I argue that in the hands of people like Cruz and DeSantis, CRT stands for Conservatives’ Revisionist Truthlessness.

Unintentional Truth?

Dr. Greg Ganske, former congressman from Iowa and a vocal CRT critic, seems to contradict his own anti-CRT stance when he argues that CRT has two common themes. According to Ganske, CRT maintains that white supremacy preserves power through the law, and the relationship between law and racial power must be transformed.

But maybe Ganske is simply being honest. As a plastic surgeon and former political operative, he has benefited from the power that white supremacy has brought him, and perhaps he does not want laws to change to level the playing field and provide the dreaded “equity” that those waging war against CRT malign and fear.

Person holding sign that says power of the people is stronger thn the people in power
Rasande Tyskar

CRT foes fear the racial awakening brought about by the murder of George Floyd. For many white Americans, the Floyd video was the first time they saw the effects of the raw racism that has plagued our country for centuries. As they marched through the streets, white Americans and others around the world committed to ending racism and white supremacy, understanding the damage that racism does to them as well. That commitment sparked fear in the hearts and souls of people who believe that the end of white supremacy will siphon off their power.

Personally, as someone who works on issues of class and racial justice, I do not see equity through a zero-sum lens. I do not believe that because you have enough I must go without the things that I need. I think we can both have our needs met – with enough left over for getting not only what we need but some of what we want also.

I do believe, however, that some people, institutions, nations or world regions might take so much that there is little left. That is where CRT comes in and provides a process by which we can make America, and the rest of the world, truly great.

How Does CRT Work?

When Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia, coined the phrase Critical Race Theory in 1989, she saw it as a tool to explain how laws and legislation in the United States are deeply rooted in systemic racism. [ii]

For example, in the early 1700s, shortly after the first Africans were brought to the United States, laws were passed to make it illegal for enslaved people to learn to read and write. Slavery was enshrined in the Constitution in 1787. The Naturalization Act of 1790 denied citizenship to anyone who was not white. The 1800s alone, saw the passing of myriad anti-white legislation, including the Chinese Exclusion Act, Indian Removal Act, Jim Crow laws and many more.

Racist laws continued well into the 1900 and 2000s. One example of this is the game-changing legislation that provided housing loans for WWII GIs. Written into the legislation was language explicitly denying loans to African American veterans. Another example? Alabama did not alter language that prohibited miscegenation until 2000.

Recent anti-CRT laws are just the latest in legislation intended to continue inequity and racism. But instead of causing division, CRT helps us understand that racism is indeed baked into the history of the United States and provides the framework that can help us bring about racial healing together as a community.

The Way Forward

Seeing exactly how laws and societal practices have normalized and institutionalized racism allows us to craft legislation which can undo the harm caused. Just as important, it helps us face the truth as a nation, see the scope of the problem and change practices – and hearts – as well. In the words of Mari Matsuda, a law professor at the University of Hawaii and an early developer of critical race theory, “We have a serious problem that requires big, structural changes; otherwise, we are dooming future generations to catastrophe.”[iii]

Ultimately, CRT will have the opposite effect of the one fear mongers predict. Instead of making white children and people feel bad, it will motivate them to continue to work with BIPOC peers to help the United States to live up to its ideals. We can be the shining beacon for the world that the writers of the Constitution – despite their own shortcomings – envisioned for the generations before them.

And, yes, I am down on the way some people use CRT, when it mean Conservatives’ Revisionist Truthlessness.


[i] Center for Law and social Policy: https://www.clasp.org/blog/how-abolishing-critical-race-theory-preserves-white-power/
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Critical Race Theory: A Brief History, New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-critical-race-theory.html

Unity Based on Justice

In July of 2020, UU Class Conversations published the blog post The Time to Unite as One America is Now about police brutality and the systemic oppression of Black and other people of color throughout the United States. It focused on how the deaths of black and brown men and women by police officers sparked international protests. The protesters were labelled terrorists, thugs and unpatriotic by some conservative media outlets and politicians.

Just a few weeks earlier, some of the same media outlets and politicians had proffered a very different response when heavily armed, mostly White, protesters stormed the Michigan capitol building, threatening to kidnap and possibly kill the governor. Why? The rioters were upset about stay-at-home orders during a pandemic.

These protesters were called patriots. Police stood down, the National Guard was not called in to quell the unrest, and there were no arrests, no tear gas deployed, and no curfews imposed and enforced. Both times Americans were exercising their First Amendment rights. Yet, there were very different outcomes and consequences for those protesting.

Down a Dangerous Road

Well, fast-forward less than six months later and due to a steady stream of falsehoods and conspiracy theories from politicians, including the lame duck U.S. president about the legitimacy of the presidential election, a mob of armed white supremacists were incited to attempt an insurrection of another American Capital building. The intent was the same: Harm the legislature, including the vice president, speaker of the House and members of the House and the Senate. This time, the riot was deadly and dozens of police officers were injured and six people have died: All this in America.

Using Racial Tropes to Obscure Class

Why? Well, the idea that real Americans can only look a certain way and cannot be immigrants or people of color or a different religion. Many Americans overwhelmingly ignore the fact that class inequalities are not just part of the black or brown experience but a struggle for all Americans who are low-income or working class. This is increasingly true also for middle class people. This ingrained belief keeps many lacking class privilege from joining others of a different race or religion and undercuts any potential unity across racial lines.

There is little self-reflection for most Americans on how their class differences shape their backgrounds and unique attitudes and behaviors. Few consider how these class differences actually can bridge racial and religious divides, if explored. The class designation is overshadowed by the ever-present racial divide. So much so that economic initiatives often proposed by progressive or moderate politicians are viewed as handouts or bailouts by certain Americans. Stimulus checks, for example, are considered nonessential because they would go to the undeserving.

The idea that those with less class advantage are lazy is often intentionally conflated as coded messages about immigrants and people of color and creates an us versus them paradigm. Imagine, if people living in poverty and those in the working and middle class actually recognized that their commonalities outweigh their differences?

Our Truth

Some White poor and working class people continue to believe that they have more in common with others of their race who have substantial class privilege than they do with black and brown people of limited privilege. They have bought the idea that the We (Whites of all classes) have to stick together to protect our country, our flag, our families and our country’s traditions as Whites – despite economic differences. It’s imperative, or the them will take over, and as the neo-Nazi chant in Charlottesville suggested, they will erase us.

The idea that the votes of people of color are less legitimate than those of Whites is a shameful part of American history that is still alive and why insurrectionists carried Confederate flags through the Capital buildings during both riots.

With the current (and much-needed) focus on racial differences, Americans overwhelmingly are unable to recognize class and classism. Moreover, American economic and political systems that widen the income gap are rarely challenged in substantive ways. The status quo is the gold standard, and U.S. policies and practices routinely benefit the wealthy and affluent at the expense of other Americans.

Until we as a nation wake up and realize that the status quo is not working for most Americans, we are destined to routinely make the same choices that continue to divide us. And, if the latest insurrections teach us anything, there is a growing angry and violent group of Americans who, if not addressed, are intent on ripping the country apart.

But there is much cause for hope in the coming months. The end of the coronavirus – while still distant – is finally in sight. The fervor of the racial justice movement is still high. New federal leadership has said it is committed to addressing class inequities and white supremacy. So, in our UU congregations and organizations let’s heighten the meaningful dialogue – and act upon – racial and class justice.

Why I Volunteer

By Elizabeth Cogliati                                                                                          

We don’t talk about money in this country enough. It is still a taboo topic. We also don’t talk about the ways in which money, and the lack thereof, affect people’s lives and their opportunities. Class is related to the cumulative effects of money and no money. We definitely do not talk enough about class, and how it affects people’s experiences of Unitarian Universalism. I want to encourage all of us to talk more about class, and money, and the effects they have on our congregants and our congregations. I think it is especially important to discuss this from a young age, and incorporate it into our religious education classes for children and youth.

Class and Race

By Nancy Hilliard

As we move forward from this momentous springtime 2020, from, with the novel coronavirus and massive protests of the murder of black men and women, we need to keep in mind the consequences of racism in every context.  Not surprisingly, poor people with fewer healthcare options are being hard hit by the novel coronavirus, far beyond the impact proportional to their numbers. However, even with limited accounting, the novel coronavirus is killing Black Americans at almost 3 times the rate of white Americans across the socio-economic spectrum. Black Americans have a shorter lifespan than White Americans with less than a high school education—even when they hold graduate degrees. Black Americans receive all the disadvantages of classism, and the healthcare gap continues up the class ladder; They receive none of the health advantages bestowed upon White Americans in the upper classes.

We are challenged to consider racism as it affects all of us, and as it intersects with class.  Within the context of racism, classism is experienced and felt differently by people of color than by white people.  I used to think that poor white people who argued that white privilege didn’t exist for them were merely ungrateful, certainly unaware. In a conversation with my nephew, he persisted in his description of poor people with mental health issues living on the streets, not enjoying any privilege whatsoever. I realized that perhaps the only privilege they did have was knowing they could walk to the corner store and back without being shot in the back or choked to death by police. And until recently, I had not been aware of how prevalent that risk of death is for so many in our communities even as I considered myself to be well-informed. 

This short-sightedness has corrupted my understanding of classism; just as I have been dismissive of those in poorer classes who won’t see their white privilege, I have discounted hardship that is real for people of color in the wealthier classes. I find I have bought into the race-based explanation for class in the United States to a greater extent than I knew. I must catch and stop the thoughts that white people who are poor should work harder and look for those missed opportunities. I am also vulnerable to thoughts that people of color who have reached the middle and upper classes must have escaped the ravages of racism to a significant extent. It is easy to fall into the simplistic explanations that comfort those who enjoy the status quo. I am being disabused of these notions this season of COVID, this summer of rising awareness and the Wall of Moms. 

We must keep learning about our world.

There have been eloquent personal blogs about being the Black Best Friend, and there has been much written in academic circles. The commentary of several leaders has been available recently, such as the writings of Michelle Alexander, author and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary (New York City); the allegories of Dr. C Jones Camara Phyllis Jones of Emory and Morehouse School of Medicine; the words of  David R. Williams of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; the prolific writings of Ibram X. Kendi. All call us to review our preconceptions and misconceptions about how classism works in the United States of America, and how the profitability of racism has molded our classist system.  

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