Critical race theory divide: 'Harmful to the country, harmful to democracy' says panel hosted by the King Center

Experts on critical race theory said efforts are underway to 'mislead and divide' the public over a framework they don't really understand. #BCTonCRT

White parents wailing in front of school board officials about critical race theory likely don’t know what it really is and misinformation about the framework is “harmful to the country and harmful to democracy,” according to a panel hosted by the King Center.

During the panel, Bernice King, CEO of the King Center said discussing critical race theory (CRT) is a necessary conversation for the sake “all of our children and their right to inclusive and equitable education and educational environments.”

Bernice King during a 2021 King Holiday Observance in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

“Given the current tension and legislation around critical race theory, it is imperative that we become informed about what it really is and the way that fear about it is being utilized to mislead and divide,” said King, the youngest daughter of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.


King said the goal of the conversation is to set the record straight, help to dismantle misinformation and help the public become more effective advocates to ensure that “no child experiences an education that denies the truth of our collective history and how it influences our present day reality.”

“We cannot allow our children’s education around this nation’s history to be caught up in divisive schemes that have emerged from a backlash to the racial awakening and drive to push for racial equity and inclusion that occurred in our world on the heels of the George Floyd killing,” King said.

The event, Beloved Community Talks — Critical Race Theory: Dismantling Misinformation, was streamed on Facebook and YouTube. Panelists included King and co-host Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., and Kendall Thomas, the Nash Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Culture and Jacqueline Battalora, an author, critical race educator and former police officer.

Clashes about CRT and equity in public schools have dominated recent school board races in Iowa and elsewhere as conservative candidates politicized CRT to take over school boards — although experts have repeatedly said the theory taught in some law schools is not taught in K-12 schools. Iowa, one of at least 12 states that passed anti-CRT legislation, House File 802, which bans trainings and teachings about “divisive concepts,” including “that the United States of America and the State of Iowa are fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist” and “that an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” among several other concepts.

In Waukee, four conservative candidates who ultimately lost the election had repeatedly fought against CRT principles, and in other states, the controversy has led to a Black educator’s ousting and election upsets.

Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., said CRT was created by faculty of color in the 1980s as a way to think about injustice in society and understand how laws perpetuated discrimination.

“This supposed attack on critical race theory is nothing but a red herring to make all of us distracted about a theory that has now been castigated and mischaracterized as something dangerous and divisive — when it is exactly the opposite,” Nelson said.

CRT is not being taught in K-12 schools, the panelists said.

“We should also be showing up at the school board meetings. We should be saying that we want a culturally responsive, inclusive education. We want equity in resources,” Nelson said. “We should be caring about what the scores look like, what the grades are like, what our faculty diversity is like, what resources our children have, the actual quality of education that we are receiving in our public-funded education system.”

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Do you know what critical race theory really means?

King asked the panel to define critical race theory for the hundreds of people who livestreamed the event.

Thomas said CRT began as a way to “make sense of this practice where you have the law saying that everybody is equal and yet being content with entrenched inequality and in some important respects, actually being complicit in reproducing inequality.”

“So it’s this basic contradiction between the law on the books and the rights granted by law on the books and the absence of that, in fact,” he said.

CRT is typically taught to students in their second or third year of law school at Columbia, he said.

“So the notion that critical race theory is being taught or has ever been taught in elementary schools is just, well, am I allowed to say, lie? It is certainly factually incorrect,” Thomas said.

Nelson said while CRT isn’t being taught in K-12 or even all law schools, that doesn’t mean it’s harmful or “a bad thing” to put before children and undergraduate students.

“It’s because it’s a rigorous educational theory that’s aimed at graduate students and law students in particular, not because it’s harmful,” Nelson said.

CRT helps society understand the role of race in present day inequities and “allows us to be able to confront those inequities,” Nelson said.

“So it has value. It’s an important tool of learning and understanding that compels action,” she said.

Since CRT isn’t being taught in K-12 settings, what are recent laws against it trying to ban and what is the agenda, Nelson asked.

The laws seek to shut down conversations about race and shut down people from reading books and singing songs that in any way touch on race, Thomas said. People who are against it are also opposed to “wokeness” and “cancel culture,” he said.

“But these are gag rule laws that are scapegoating CRT to shut down a discussion of race,” he said. “The second thing that these laws are trying to do is to distract Americans from the massive hits that public education budgets have taken in the last 10 years.”

He said a poorly educated populace can’t understand the ways the laws and policies of the country have been “structurally positioned to disadvantage not just people of color, but poor and working class white Americans.”

“And critical race theory is certainly also about impeding the emergence that we started to see in the summer of 2020 of a multiracial, intergenerational social justice movement that was connecting the dots between racial and economic injustice,” he said. “I think that’s what the people who oppose critical race theory are terrified of – that people will see that we cannot have economic and social justice in this country without racial justice – that the two things are closely bound together.”

Battalora asked if viewers have watched recent clips of packed school board meetings flooded with parents protesting against CRT.

” . . . where you have white women in tears, saying, ‘You will not give my child critical race theory’ and invoking this fragile white child and white female which of course has a rich deep history in the racial formation of this nation,” Battalora said.

She called the exclusion of historical texts a modern day “book burning.” It’s unhealthy to lie about history to white children and children of color and to “exclude pieces of U.S. history,” she said.

“If we’re saying to our white children that knowing historical truth is damaging to you, what does that mean about white people?” Battalora said.

Thomas said groups that have attacked CRT include 1776 Action, The Heritage Foundation and the Judicial Crisis Network.

“These groups are opposed to voting rights. They’re opposed to public education. They’re opposed to what remains of the social safety net in this country, and they are opposed to democracy,” Thomas said.

He said critical race theory misinformation “obscures our understanding” of what’s really going on.

“This is an attack on democracy — that is weaponizing illiteracy — to create scenes, like the public school board meetings, where you have parents crying, terrorized by the specter of something that they don’t even understand — and that is a tragedy for our democracy,” he said.

Pushing through the ‘noise’

King asked the panel how the public can push through the “noise” and work to combat the misinformation without being “combative.” Battalora urged people to go to school board meetings and she joined the other panelists in calling the opposition to CRT “anti-democracy” instead of anti-CRT.

“I think there is a significant role for white people to stand up in the face of those white tears on behalf of the anti-democracy movement,” she said. “To say no — that this is not what is best for our children. It does not lead us on a path toward a loving community that I certainly want to be part of.”

Thomas said Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon in 1962, talked about the success that African American people had due to “the steady decline of crippling illiteracy.” He said we need to know our history, draw strength from it and empower a “love movement,” which is committed to a love of knowledge and a love of country.

“And a recognition that if we censor classroom discussions about the meaning of race and the continuing challenges of racism, we are not going to be able to prepare Americans for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship in our increasingly diverse multicultural society,” he said.

There are urgent challenges around literacy and democratic literacy, and racial literacy can be a bridge between those two things, he said.

Nelson said some people are uninformed, “frankly ignorant” and have bought into the propaganda unwittingly and need to be educated, while others have an agenda. She said people must fight the disinformation, expose it, name it and point out the actors who are behind it.

“First and foremost, we need to stop calling this anti-CRT and call it anti-truth, which is what it is. It’s anti-democratic. It’s anti-literacy,” she said during Tuesday’s panel. “We’ve heard so many other ways to explain this. And we also need to diagnose what this is.”

Tags: #Race #BCTonCRT #TheKingCenter #CRT #CriticalRaceTheory #Democracy #GeorgeFloyd #BelovedCommunityTalks

Thursday is Veterans Day

Black Civil War Veterans built ‘vibrant’ Iowa communities

Civil War Battle Flag, 1st Colored Regiment of Iowa (60th U.S. Colored Infantry (1863).

The 1st Colored Regiment of Iowa – aided by Black women – fought in the American Civil War for the Union Army then returned to Iowa to build communities and fight for civil rights. READ story. #VeteransDay2021 #BlackHistory #IowaCulture

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