Diverse City

This month, District 49 is set to push forward a resolution banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in Falcon’s schools. If no public input comes by Aug. 4, given a 3-2 majority school board vote in July, expect the resolution to be adopted as is — perpetuating a complete rewrite of history under the guise of “patriotism.” At July’s meeting, board member Ivy Liu stated, “We keep talking about systemic racism, which I don’t believe exists. If you look across society right now, we have many successful people of all colors. How does that compute with systemic racism and that the whole country’s set up for the success of only white people?” 

Such a statement is disconnected from the reality and harmful effects of individual racism and clouds understanding of legislation targeted at limiting the freedoms of BIPOC communities. Liu cherry-picks examples of “success,” ignoring the clear evidence that the legacy of slavery, segregation and structural disadvantages still impact society and success today.

It ignores Brookings Institution research findings of “staggering racial disparities” in wealth in the United States that “reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception.”

Researchers traced the roots of financial inequality through centuries, to 2016, when “at $171,000, the net worth of a typical white family is nearly 10 times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150)...” 

Liu’s comment ignores the devastating Jim Crow-era “Black codes,” redlining, the “separate but equal” legal doctrine, poll taxes designed to exclude Black citizens from voting, lynchings, the destruction of entire towns, mass incarceration, the Sand Creek massacre… There is not enough room in this column to list the historical trauma inflicted on BIPOC communities via systemic white supremacy.

Statements like Liu’s are common narratives among Republican operatives. In one of his last acts as president, Donald Trump railed against The New York Times’ 1619 Project, which tells the nation’s story through the lens of slavery, saying “... many students are now taught in school to hate their own country, and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but rather villains.” 

Kimberlé Crenshaw, Columbia Law School professor and Critical Race Theory pioneer, points out it’s a method of research for legal scholars that has been around for decades, and is being deliberately misunderstood. “It is a way of looking at law’s role platforming, facilitating, producing, and even insulating racial inequality in our country, ranging from health to wealth to segregation to policing,” Crenshaw says. “The idea that anti-racism is racism against white people has got to be the oldest talking point in their playbook. There is not a thing happening today that we have not seen before.”

Kendall Thomas, co-founder of Columbia’s Center for the Study of Law and Culture, told Columbia News that Republican lawmakers’ assertions that white children are being made to feel guilty “is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an idea or tenet behind critical race theory. To the contrary, critical race theory recognizes that racial inequity and exclusion hurt all Americans, whatever our race or color.”

The cynical scapegoating of critical race theory attacks the real history of America and protects as “patriotic” the kind of narrow-minded ideologies that encourage domestic terrorists like those who joined the January 6 insurrection. It dismisses as “anti-American” anyone who challenges the idea that systemic racism is no longer part of the fabric of our society. Behind this scapegoating is a deep-seated concept of the “patriot” as only white and male.

This ideology is not only racist and dangerous, but willfully so. D49’s kneejerk policymaking is a deliberate misuse of a concept designed to build understanding. It’s an attack on the truth of American history, an effort to protect inequitable systems of power, and a craven attempt to curry political favor with people suspicious of change. It ignores who and what America is, and we will all be the worse for it.