OPINION: Critical Race Theory controversy hits critical mass

FILE - In this May 18, 2021, file photo, a teacher, center, and her third grade students wear face masks and are seated at proper social distancing spacing during as she conducts her class in Rye, N.Y. In response to a push for culturally responsive teaching that gained steam following last year's police killing of George Floyd, Republican lawmakers and governors have championed legislation to limit the teaching of material that explores how race and racism influence American politics, culture and law. The measures have become law in Tennessee, Idaho and Oklahoma and bills have been introduced in over a dozen other states. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Critical race theory has become another hot-button issue and probably will be for years to come, defended by some Americans, reviled by others and misunderstood by many.

The educational premise, which reportedly dates to the 1970s, is that discrimination because of race is so widespread, so ingrained in culture, that it has permeated policies and laws in the United States, all facets of life, really, stacking the deck against Blacks and other minorities. It has been brought to the forefront over the last several years through “The 1619 Project” from The New York Times Magazine, the title of which is based upon the year enslaved Africans were brought against their will to Virginia, a British colony at the time.

Black investigative journalist and project creator Nikole Hannah-Jones received a Pulitzer Prize last year for her introductory essay for the initiative, which focuses on our well-documented history of slavery and repression.

Hannah-Jones has faced a backlash and some of her writings have been called into question. Gene Lyons, a reliably liberal syndicated columnist whose work appears occasionally in the Herald, called her work “an ambitious attempt to reassess American history through the shame of slavery,” with the longterm effects of the practice, along with the contributions of Black people, leading the national narrative.

Historians have taken issue with an assertion that the Revolutionary War was fought largely to prevent the abolition of slavery in the 13 English colonies, among other points.

Political commentators and other talking heads on TV have had a field day with the “The 1619 Project,” with hard-liners on the right lambasting its magazine-style blend of fact and opinion that diminishes the concept of American exceptionalism and superiority among nations of the world, putting liberal broadcasters on the defensive.

Other writers have been soundly criticized for the perceived affront of examining the United States from the perspective of the oppressed. In his 1980 nonfiction book “A People’s History of the United States,” historian and political scientist Howard Zinn lays bare the mistreatment and marginalization of human beings starting with the explorers/conquerors who sailed from Europe and vanquished all in their path. We have read Zinn’s informative tome and found it interesting and eye-opening in its presentation from a fresh standpoint.

Although administrators have insisted critical race theory isn’t taught in public schools, conservative activists are using the moniker to cover a range of diversity and equity initiatives considered too progressive for their tastes. Lawmakers in more than 20 states have reportedly proposed limits on how schools can talk about racial issues. Teachers in some school systems are worried, fearing reprisal simply for doing their jobs. Imparting truth is not revising history.

Along with that brewing brouhaha add multiple, high-profile instances of police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement, accusations of a rigged presidential election, the Jan. 6 Capitol building melee, frequent cases of cancel culture and you have a steaming cauldron of social upheaval and hostility.

We remember middle and high school history books telling the story of the United States in glowing terms, glossing over the cruelty of slavery and other transgressions like the massacre and relocation of American Indians and intended eradication of their culture in the name of progress.

There’s nothing wrong with looking back with regret and even a sense of revulsion. You can be a modern-day patriot and love your country while still acknowledging widespread wrongdoings of the past.

It is by peering through that lens that the future of a stronger, fairer, more inclusive America becomes clear.

Cumberland (Md.) Times-News | CNHI


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