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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.

A Simple Faith

by Wesley V. Hromatko

Some time ago Doug Muder in the UU World doubted if our church could speak to the average working man. He thought that we didn’t have anything to say to his father who made cattle feed in Illinois. If his father came to church he wouldn’t find anyone he could talk with. He also said that you wouldn’t find a trucker or anybody with callused hands. A harsh life needed a harsh religion. Being one of us works for teachers and professors but not for regular people. He thinks we exclude people by class. Now Doug Muder is a UU and hopes we have a wider message, but he doesn’t know what it is. To say the least, I was floored.

I hadn’t noticed the article right away probably because it came out the year my father died. My father was a UU farmer. When he started working away from home he was a hired man. He cleaned barns, fed pigs, delivered calves and milked cows. He told about working for several weeks but was paid barely enough for gas to get home. Why my father joined our church is part of my answer to this article.

My father had grown up the way the columnist had. Then it came time for the dreaded confirmation classes. He couldn’t understand what he was supposed to agree to. Well, he had no trouble with the Golden Rule and the Ten Commandments except getting them in order. Telling the truth and keeping your hands off other people’s things made sense. On the other hand what about the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ. He didn’t understand it. My Grandfather suggested he could wait until he grew up and then only had to say yes.

He got through this much of joining the church until his Uncle Jens died. I remember Uncle Jens. He never got farther than working at a feed store or for room and board somewhere. He liked ladies and children well enough. He probably would have liked to have his own family but where would he have ever made the money? So, at least part of the time, he was a bachelor Norwegian farmer. When he had a little extra he would buy my father and sisters ice cream or candy. Later, he did the same thing for me and even found a handkerchief to give me for my birthday. I remember he was in the Slayton hospital, and then he died.

The pastor said he wouldn’t give Uncle Jens a funeral. My grandmother was nearly hysterical because they wouldn’t bury her brother. My Dad and grandfather went down to church to argue. After all, Jens was a good man. He took care of his mother himself until she died. He went to church at least on Christmas and Easter. The pastor said that wasn’t enough. The argument went on and finally, a service was arranged. However, at the funeral to everyone’s horror, the pastor said Uncle Jens was in hell. My father said he was never going back to church. Later he would drive his mother but he wouldn’t go in.

About this time my folks would do about me and Sunday school. My grandmother had been listening to a radio program from the Sioux City Unitarian Church. Rev. Mr. John Brigham whose was the minister even came to visit my Grandparents Moffatt at Slayton. He talked about how he had worked on a farm in New England. He said that there was Sunday school program by mail sent people from Boston.

My Dad would have said we were common people. He didn’t finish the eighth grade. He had been a hired man, but then rented from his father and did custom farming. My mother had started college studying music but got pneumonia and didn’t finish. My grandmother, my mother’s mother had to work and hadn’t gone to high school. When my mother and grandmother explained Unitarianisms, it made sense to my Dad right away. He liked that there wasn’t a creed. He liked that Channing had said that you wouldn’t be shut out of the church unless goodness had died in you. It’s hard for me to imagine one of our ministers refusing a funeral because of poor attendance.

We were on the Hanska mailing list as well as the Sioux City. Sioux City was quite far away. My folks talked about coming to the summer festival and smorgasbord. The Hanska congregation particularly appealed to my Dad. The Nora Church broke away from Lake Hanska because of fighting over who could be buried in the cemetery. When the new church formed one of the first order of business was a new cemetery. Anyone could be buried there no matter what they believed. Even the pastors who refused burial to others were welcome. My parents and Marilyn are safely there.

What appealed to my father was the church’s plainness. You must listen to your conscience and do the right thing. Dad understood the commandments and the Golden Rule. Love of neighbor was a basic value. When a neighbor hurt his arm in a corn picker accident Dad was off on his Farmall to join our neighbors in bringing in the harvest. Farmers may sound like individualists but when the chips are down they work together.

It is claimed that we are hard to understand and read complicated books. How could the average person understand what we believe? Actually, our church requires less philosophy to understand religion. Of course, in other churches, you can simply believe. However, if you start studying the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ you will find a lot of ancient philosophy that is really very hard. I remember talking to a traditional minister who said he couldn’t understand the creed and he, of course, had graduated from seminary. You can, of course, turn to philosophy to understand religion. We won’t stop you. It can even help and you might enjoy it. It’s just that our basics aren’t all that complicated. They are simple, but they are not easy.

We have liked the sort of summaries that called elevator speeches. Can you tell what you believe to a stranger in the time it takes to ride an elevator? The summary is an ancient idea going back to the Golden Rule and is found in other religions. Our Willmar congregation has a banner in the front with its many varieties. Even briefer is “What is hateful to you, do not do to others. This is the whole of Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a). You can say it standing on one foot. The Ames covenant was popular among us. Its summary was loved God and love to humanity. John Dewey in A Common Faith suggested that theists and humanists shared common ideals.

The World editorial that inspired this sermon was skeptical that our traditional value of freedom could have wide appeal. Our oldest American congregations never had creeds. They had covenants. They were agreements about what we were to do not about what to believe. These covenants go back in some cases to the 1600s. In a sense the new behavior covenant that churches have recently tried writing are redundant. We always had agreements about how we were to act. The real problem is honoring them. Because our churches didn’t require an exact set of words but a way of behaving we could embrace a wide number of people who didn’t believe exactly the same. Being a farmer my father never liked being told what to do. If you must do things all day long, it should be a relief to be able to think for yourself.

We have an appeal to the average person. When well over a hundred years ago Christopher Janson went to the Prairie to preach to the Hanska farmers, he found an audience right away. The looked at each other and nudged one another. Afterward, some said they had always thought the way he did but had been afraid to say so.

Unlike the columnist’s father my father always could find someone to talk to in our churches. There is an idea that we are all teachers, scientists, professors. True some of us are. However, our backgrounds aren’t as uniform as people suppose. One of the great ministers more than a hundred years ago Robert Collyer started as a blacksmith and even would use it as a pulpit. Professor James Luther Adams, known for translating theologian Paul Tillich, worked on a farm. He helped his father who drove a combine pulled by twenty-two horses. To make money for the University of Minnesota he crawled under trains to fix air brakes. As a minister, he was active in supporting labor. A fellow student with me at our Chicago seminary drove a railroad inspection car. Between churches, another worked for quite awhile at a milking machine company. A former president of our Chicago seminary worked during WWII setting the triggers in bombs. Another seminary president was once a trucker, When he drove away to a retirement congregation he rented and packed his own truck to move. Another well-known minister worked in a steel mill. Robert Fulgham whose books were made from his church columns was a cowboy as well as an IBM salesman. He is the author of “All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” He sold over 15 million books and was translated into 27 languages. We seem to have some common appeal. Author Herman Melville was both an able seaman and a farmer. We have had fishermen, police, truckers, electricians, and firemen in our pews.

The editorial author didn’t notice our church in his town until he had grown up and moved away. He didn’t see something else. In New England, the textile mills and shoe factories are gone. Steel plants and other factories closed in the old Midwest. One reason that our churches don’t have factory workers or other labors is that the jobs aren’t as common as they once were. Manufacturing has declined dramatically since 2000. 24 per cent had factory jobs in the 60’s today it’s 8 percent who do. A good many jobs were shipped overseas where labor was less expensive. The most common jobs are nursing and clerical. Nearly 60 percent (75 percent) of women are counted in labor statistics. Churches tend to reflect communities.The kind of jobs

The kind of jobs have also changed. I know someone in one of our churches that made feed, but he has a Ph.d. People who once made things now are more likely to provide services. Better paying jobs now require more education. This is true both of farming and manufacturing. Even the military needs people with higher levels of education to maintain and use the equipment. The truth of the matter is we are mostly all working people in one sense. Only 10 percent of people actually work for themselves. The small drugstores and other stores are now mostly chains and franchises. Even those with good corporate salaries aren’t independent. We have a message for working people.

We have congregations with all sorts of people. We have those who based their belief on the biblical heritage and those who just believe in being and doing good. Our message is simple but that does not mean it is easy. Educator John Dewey in his book A Common Faith thought that people can share common ideals. For example, author Kurt Vonnegut called himself a free thinker and was skeptical about traditional religion. On the other hand, when interviewed on television he would pull out the Golden Rule and the Beatitudes. Like his favorite uncle he would say, “If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Say Yes to Resistance

Demonstrators hold signs during a rally outside Trump Tower in New York on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, to protest against President-elect Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)by Betsy Leondar-Wright

The election outcome was a shock – but wasn’t something new. Throughout U.S. history we’ve had waves of right-wing populism, when people bought into explanations of their economic hardships that scapegoat other marginalized groups and reject traditional elites. This election was a right-wing populist upsurge that few of us saw coming. We underestimated the number of voters willing to accept racism, sexism, Islamophobia and immigrant-bashing in a candidate.

But we also saw a surge of progressive populism – the kind that criticizes economic systems and the rich – in the strong showing for Bernie Sanders’ campaign and the popularity of Senator Elizabeth Warren. And that can be our source of hope now, that the progressive populists could organize social movements and take over the Democratic Party.

Progressive Populism

The mainstream Democratic Party used to have more progressive populism in its platform, its rhetoric and its political actions, from the 1930s through the ‘70s. But I’m one of many leftists who started criticizing the party in the ‘90s for its turn to the right, for ignoring working class and poor people harmed by de-industrialization and making trade deals like NAFTA and the TPP. In particular, the national Democrats ignored white working class men, the only race/class/gender cluster who actually has lower income today than their fathers and grandfathers.

Democratic leaders didn’t treat falling wages and unemployment as true crises. After the crash they accepted the bailout of “too big to fail” banks and they didn’t push enough for a bailout for foreclosed homeowners. Gradually over the last 30 years the Democratic Party began to get more of its campaign funding from Wall Street, big corporations and wealthy individuals, and began to operate under the delusion that a coalition of well-off coastal liberals and urban people of color could swing national elections – which clearly isn’t always true. They took union support for granted, not realizing that the rank-and-file don’t necessarily vote with the leaders.

“We need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with. Our first UU principle about the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hardest to put into practice with people we have profound disagreements with.″

Many Democratic leaders also fell into the cultural classism that some of us coastal liberals fall into, of regarding the Midwest as a flyover zone full of gun owners or Christian fundamentalists who are too stupid to have a reasoned political conversation with. It’s important to remember that Donald Trump won the majority of votes from college-educated and high-income whites as well, so we need to be on the alert for classist demonizing of white working class people. This is a white right-wing populist uprising that cuts across classes.

Those of us who didn’t see this coming need to ask ourselves whose voices we hear on a regular basis, why more of the voices of the disaffected rural and Rust Belt white people weren’t on our radio programs, in our newspapers, on our Facebook feeds – and in our personal circles. We didn’t hear them.

We need to stop huddling in our liberal echo chamber talking about how “they” got it wrong and we are right about everything.

Reach Out, Build Ties of Solidarity

“It will take a mass progressive movement to turn our country in a healthier direction.”

Instead we need to reach out and build ties of solidarity, both personally and politically: ties with people already being targeted by street harassment from emboldened bullies who are spray-painting racist slurs and yanking off head scarves; ties with those likely to be politically targeted for deportation and stripped of union rights, health coverage, abortion rights, religious freedom and affirmative action.

But we also need to reach out and build personal and political ties with those Trump voters who aren’t committed haters, but whose economic woes and worries we can empathize with. Our first UU principle about the inherent worth and dignity of every person is hardest to put into practice with people we have profound disagreements with. We may need to put aside disagreements over gun ownership and find common ground in preventing Wall Street and multinational corporations from taking over our democracy and our economy.

huge crowd rallying for progressive U.S. policyIt will take a mass progressive movement to turn our country in a healthier direction. Only a multiracial and cross-class mass movement can limit how much damage the Republican Senate, House and President can do in these coming years. A mass movement could light a fire under the Democratic Party to nominate progressive populists like Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren.

We need a responsive party that is loudly pro-labor, that pushes for full employment policy, that will be firmly anti-sexist and anti-racist, that will tell the truth about how crucial immigrants are to economic growth, and that will treat income inequality as a national crisis. The movement and the party I’m imagining would put forward a progressive populist message that will make sense to economically struggling people of all races and regions.

It’s too early know what effective resistance will be organized to stop the rightward lurch of our country, but when it happens, when you get invitations to join organizations, to boycott, to go to protests and to speak up, please say yes. All of us will need to say yes, say yes, and say yes again.


Betsy Leondar-Wright spoke these words on a panel about race, class and gender in the presidential election, at First Parish UU Church of Arlington, MA on November 13. She is on the board of Class Action (www.classism.org) and on the steering committee of UU Class Conversations (www.uuclassconversations.org ).

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