by Bill Drake
Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a complex approach to race and race relations taught in law classes. I only heard of it recently, after years of anti-bias work. A handbook for anti-CRT activists that I read warns that principles of CRT are infiltrating public schools. A number of CRT’s views relate to basic anti-bias education, for example, recognizing that whites have advantages and that unconscious bias is a factor in racism.
But exploring such things in educational and other settings usually has nothing to do with CRT per se. The book I read illogically concludes that if someone teaches anti-bias concepts that may (or may not) be found in CRT, the whole package of CRT is involved. Consequently, anti-CRT activists use CRT as an excuse to attack every possible approach to anti-bias education.
Even efforts supporting diversity, equality, and inclusion are targeted. As well, it is suggested that racism is a thing of the past. And parallel to the anti-CRT movement is the effort by some to discourage history teachings and books that might make whites feel uncomfortable.
To help justify their stance, the anti-CRT movement distorts the meaning of Martin Luther King’s words and uses a comparison to his social change methods that is problematic.
The movement points out that CRT differs from King’s approach, and that CRT promotes “color consciousness.” In particular, CRT opponents focus on King’s reference to a future time when blacks “are not judged by the color of their skin” in his “I Have a Dream” speech. They use this statement to justify saying we need to be “color blind” today, by ignoring skin color.
I know a lot about King. I have studied his books and speeches, taught his philosophy to practitioners of his non-violent civil disobedience method, and created radio programs and published articles about him.
First of all, while CRT theorists have a different view of overcoming racism and bias than King had, and see a need for deep systemic changes in society, it is very possible that if King were alive today, he and CRT might be more in accord on this subject. At the end of his life he was disheartened at the unexpected degree of white resistance to equality. And he would agree that some of the progress in civil rights legislation during the 1960s was undermined as realtors, legislators, and others found ways to continue discrimination.
In wanting people of color to not be judged by their skin color, he expressed an ideal that concerned judgment. The danger of being “color blind” (which distorts King’s reference to not being judged) is that it often results in ignoring that people of color have a different experience of America than whites. It becomes a convenient way to discount the reality of racism.
In spite of progress, King would acknowledge racism in America today and privileges whites have. He would also acknowledge good and bad aspects of US History (including the near genocide of California Indians during the Gold Rush, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the internment of Japanese Americans, etc.), and at times he referred to the centuries of racism, slavery, and the Jim Crow era. While he saw America as a great country, he also saw its imperfections.
He certainly would have recognized that by offering a sanitized version of history that makes whites look good, we would deny other races the acknowledgement of racism that has been part of their histories. This, in itself, has racist implications. And he would recognize that by denying that racism and bias are a factor in our society today, and that anti-bias education is important, we would be perpetuating racism and bias. We cannot overcome a problem if we pretend it does not exist.
Using King to oppose anti-bias education reflects a serious misunderstanding of who he was.
Bill Drake is the co-founder of Communityes Beyond Bias. Learn more about him and the organization by clicking https://www.healracism.com/