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Friday, December 31, 2021

Let's Face Our Past with an Eye toward the Future

Critical Race Theory - why it's important

By Jack Caswell

State Representative Patricia Morgan (R-West Warwick, Warwick, Coventry)
has drawn nationwide criticism for this tweet EVEN from her long-time friend
and campaign donor Blake "Flip" Filippi (R-Charlestown).
When it comes to eliciting visceral reactions, there is no other topic quite like race, and for good reason.  Taking pride in one’s race and ethnic heritage is so natural and justified as to seem innate.  Racial disparagement, regardless of the source or the target is ugly, ignorant, and cruel. 

Interracial discussions about race, as painfully necessary as they may be, are highly sensitive and potentially combustible.  Into this climate, Critical Race Theory has emerged as an emotionally-charged, controversial issue in American education, especially since the high-profile police officer killings of George Floyd and other African-Americans.

Here's where Filippi throws his long-time friend and political mentor under the bus.
His remark that her remarks "are not the values of our state or the Republican Party"
is b.s. Morgan's remarks on CRT are EXACTLY what the Republican Party believes.
Critical Race Theory (CRT), which has been in academic circles since Harvard professor Derrick Bell initiated it in the 1980s, posits that institutionalized racism has been historically ubiquitous in the United States and continues to perpetuate white supremacy in the nation’s legal, education, political, and social systems. 

CRT started as a collegiate-level field of study, but it is becoming increasingly prevalent in secondary education, and as would be expected, the political backlash has been passionate and vitriolic. 

According to Columbia University’s Columbia News, Republican lawmakers in more than 20 states have introduced or passed legislation that would ban schools from teaching about structural racism, or CRT.  Additionally, former Vice President Mike Pence has characterized CRT as “racism,” and Texas Senator Ted Cruz has compared CRT to the notorious Ku Klux Klan.  

Regardless of your stance on this issue, the fact remains that any objective pedagogical methods in U.S. history or American literature that is completely devoid of political and/or racial bias has been and will continue to be the best educational approach. 

That means informing all students of all ages about our nation’s sordid history regarding the attempted genocide of Native Americans, the enslavement of African-Americans, and the subsequent, centuries-long battles for civil rights and racial equality that minorities in this country have had to fight for and, many would argue, continue to fight for.  

EDITOR’S NOTE: How different would Charlestown politics be if Chariho students were taught honest history about the interaction of the Narragansett Indian Tribe and the Europeans who settled in Rhode Island? 

From the 1675 Great Swamp Massacre to the enslavement and dislocation of tribal members that culminated in an almost complete land grab in 1882 then federal recognition in 1983 to the 2009 Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision that compromised that recognition – what do Chariho students and their parents know about these events that have made Charlestown what it is? 

Charlestown is the ONLY RI municipality to keep a lawyer on full-time retainer for the sole purpose of blocking any effort the Narragansetts to better their quality of life. – Will Collette

Sensitive Caucasians take note:  There is no shame in acknowledging our ancestors’ egregious behavior. The shame is in denying and perpetuating those same behaviors and attitudes. Sensitive minorities take note: Some of the CRT instructional methods on record constitute misguided overreaction and should be either toned down or eliminated altogether. 

Any American literature teacher who includes or has included in his/her curriculum Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, A Raisin in the Sun, A Native Son, Harlem Renaissance poetry, or a host of other selections from the canon that address racial discrimination, inculcates – unwittingly or not – some form of Critical Race Theory.  And it shouldn’t be any other way. 

Students should learn about the onerous struggles for survival, respect, and equality that African Americans and other minorities have had to endure in the United States in order to rectify these blights on our society. For the same reason, any American history curriculum that neglects to address the heinous treatment of African Americans, Native Americans, and other minorities that has marked our nation’s past is failing its students.

However, there is such a thing as going too far, and if Christopher F. Rufo, in his April 2021 article Critical Race Theory in Education, is credible, then such practices as teaching students that “all white people” perpetuate systemic racism, as a Buffalo public school allegedly does, or claiming that babies show the first signs of racism at three months old and become full-blown “racists” by age five, as the Arizona Department of Education allegedly does as part of its “equity” toolkit, or professing that white, heterosexual Protestant males are inherently oppressors, as a middle school in Springfield, Missouri allegedly claims, then the pendulum has swung too far.  These practices are bound to perpetuate, not inhibit, divisiveness and mutual resentment among the races.

News flash: Racism has been prevalent among cultures around the globe since at least biblical times. History is replete with religious, cultural, and ethnic biases, many of which have been the impetus for epic wars.  There is not one race that is singularly responsible for or guilty of it.

History also suggests that racism is part of human nature, and that is the truly sad and unfortunate part. Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, as cynical as he was about human nature, probably characterized the ludicrous and insidious nature of racial prejudice when he wrote: “All I know is that man is a human being, and that is low enough for me; he can’t be any worse.”

The encouraging part is that Twain was wrong.  All races, ethnic groups and cultures are teeming with noble, intelligent, courageous, magnanimous, altruistic, compassionate, intrinsically beautiful, vulnerable, and sensitive people.

What’s needed in educational institutions around the globe is a Constructively Critical Human Theory curriculum with the explicit goal of perpetuating universal enlightenment and human compassion.  Doubtless, it is a quixotic wish with slim hopes of becoming reality.   At the very least, when we face our past, we should have an eye toward our future.

Jack Caswell is the author of Secret Societies & Classic Literature and a contributor to Southern Rhode Island newspapers as well as Progressive Charlestown. In his former lives, he was a sports writer and an English teacher.