Yes, We Should Be Concerned About Critical Race Theory
Caroline Cureau was my great-great-grandmother. In 1902, Caroline married Onesiphore Sarafin Manade, my great-great-grandfather, and the couple moved from Louisiana to Missouri several years later. Much about their life story has been lost with the passage of time, but as facts go, two things are certain: Caroline was black, and Onesiphore was white.
Many Americans don’t know that anti-miscegenation laws—laws prohibiting certain races from marrying one another—were in effect well into the 20th century, including here in Missouri. They were odious laws affecting the marriages of not just the first generation, but of their children, their children’s children, and their children’s children’s children. The generational injustice of such laws was breathtaking.
For the better part of a century, Americans tried to move past this sort of thinking. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” is the American dream, of a world defined not by who your family was but by who you are. It’s the dream of families of all colors that their children will not suffer because of the stations or sins of earlier generations.
It is right and proper that America’s tumultuous racial history is taught in every American classroom. Yet the line between racial understanding and racial grievance can be a thin one, so it’s unsurprising that there has been so much debate recently over the issue of critical race theory (CRT) and whether it should be taught in our schools.
While the precise contours of CRT vary from adherent to adherent, CRT as a belief system posits that white supremacy serves as the foundation of American institutions and government, and that white supremacy is advanced by whites as a class and who, individually, are definitionally racist regardless of their personal views. If the use of “class” sounds vaguely Marxist, it’s because CRT indeed has roots in Marxism, and some of its adherents are plain about their support for the suspension of private property rights and redistribution of wealth on the basis of race. Additionally, CRT (again, generally) gives great weight to ideas of race essentialism (that the color of our skin drives our value system,) neo-segregation (that racial groups should be regularly separated to develop their own identities), and collective guilt (that the wrongs of the past are assignable to racial groups today.)
In other words, it’s a belief system that is in direct contradiction to King’s dream. That, to me, is intolerable, and promoting such a worldview in public schools would be an alarming throwback to the bad old days of legally-enforced and culturally-accepted racism.
Some may feel differently, and that’s their right. But do Missouri parents even know whether their kids are learning this content? Have Missouri schools been transparent about whether and to what extent they agree with the principles of CRT? Parents have a right to know what’s being taught to their children regardless of the subject, but that’s especially true of contentious curricula that use CRT concepts.
For my part, I’d like to think that Missourians will reject critical race theory for themselves and their kids. Maybe that’s because of my own background and upbringing. Above all else, I think most Missourians believe we are all really part of an “American family,” with shared successes, shared disappointments, and shared history.
But being American isn’t about who our parents were or what we look like. It’s about what we choose to be . . . and what we choose to be together. As we look back at our American story, I hope we don’t lose sight of that; otherwise I fear we won’t just be looking back at the past, but falling back into its errors, as well.