Critical Race Theory

Written by Jessica Engelking

On July 1st, House File 802 went into effect. According to Kim Reynolds, this law will target the teaching of critical race theory and other concepts in government diversity trainings and classroom curriculum.

“Critical Race Theory is about labels and stereotypes, not education. It teaches kids that we should judge others based on race, gender or sexual identity, rather than the content of someone’s character,” Reynolds said in a statement. “I am proud to have worked with the legislature to promote learning, not discriminatory indoctrination.”

This is an entirely incorrect description of what Critical Race Theory is. Critical Race theory is a legal theory, and as such isn’t taught to children. In the 1970’s, a group of black lawyers/legal scholars observed that despite the passing of anti-discrimation legislation, things weren’t getting better. They hypothesized that the long-lasting effects of slavery could account for what they were observing. So they did research, looking at things in the context of slavery and its after effects. Doing so explained the data and confirmed their theory, called Critical Race Theory. Again, this is legal theory and not something taught in elementary schools.

So what then is the concern? If CRT is not being taught in schools, what is it that is upsetting people like Kim Reynolds? The thing is, other disciplines have also been examining things through a critical race analysis lens. In looking at history through a critical race lens, it’s clear that a lot of history has been left out. Now, there are efforts to teach the full and complete history. That is what is upsetting people. The national narrative is growing to include all the parts intentionally excluded before. People like Kim Reynolds are going to say that the purpose of bringing in these parts of history is done with the goal of making the U.S. look bad or making people feel bad. This is not the case. The goal is to tell the whole truth. If the truth upsets people, so be it.

But more is at stake, and the backlash against teaching the whole truth is indicative of something deeper.

Those gaps in history, those gaps create space for white supremacy to take hold. For example, when people look at poverty within BIPOC communities, in the absence of context, they make sense of it with the information they have. They were taught if you work hard, you’ll be successful, so they figure a lack of hard work explains the situation. But if they knew the historical context, that whenever a BIPOC community started to thrive, the government would bomb, burn or otherwise break up these communities, they might come to a different conclusion. Not knowing the context of these attacks creates space for white supremacy to creep in. Closing these gaps helps prevent that, and that is why it is such a threat.

Making it illegal to teach that the U.S. or the state of Iowa is fundamentally or systemically racist or sexist is an attempt to legally create space for white supremacist views, by not allowing the truth to be taught. Imagine you’re teaching criminology and a student asks why Black people make up 4% of the population but 25% of the prison population. How do you explain that? If you can’t point to the fact that Black people are disproportionately targeted by a systemically racist legal system, how then do you account for this discrepancy? This is legally blocking the truth to create space for white supremacy to take hold.

The good news is, the truth is out there, and it’s not going away. We now have the resources to examine, document, archive and share information that we never had before. The truth cannot be so easily suppressed in the Information Age. And that is what these sad little laws are trying to do. They’re trying to suppress the truth, by whatever means possible. But we’re not going to let it happen. The truth will not be whitewashed.