Updated: Mar 18
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Op-ed (Published on December 23, 2021)
Author: Dr. RL Booker
Editor: Veronica Mobley
In a December 10, 2020, Arizona Peoria Unified school board meeting, Linda Busam, a self-identified concerned community member, spoke about her displeasure of the school district having a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) plan, which has been labeled as Critical Race Theory (CRT).
“Before the governing school board today is a vote for a new curriculum that appears well-intentioned, appealing, even empathetic, but in actuality, it further divides us. When you peel back the layers of this onion you will see that it promotes taking from one group in order to compensate a second group to correct injustices caused by a third group who mistreated a fourth group at an earlier point in history. It’s absurd. Not only does it not promote justice, it promotes racism. And you cannot cure racism with more racism…they want to teach a revisionist American history that teaches victimhood, entitlement, and a loathing for our country. We do not want or need this curriculum in our schools.”
In response, Superintendent Jason Reynolds said, “I just want to clarify and make sure that our community understands that we don’t teach Critical Race Theory. It’s not part of our curriculum. It’s not part of the state standards, and we are having no discussions to bring any changes to that before the governing board.”
Busam's comment was not an isolated incident. Over the last year, there has been a snowball effect of parents, grandparents, and even folks who have no affiliation with school districts showing up to school board meetings threatening board members, and regurgitating inaccurate statements about diversity, equity, inclusion, and CRT. I do believe that most folks who have been showing up to school board meetings are genuinely concerned parents and community members who want their voices to be heard. Many of them espouse that CRT and diversity, equity, and inclusion are the same and that CRT is being taught to children as young as 5 years old. But maybe, there is a piece missing?
Why do parents, largely White parents, believe that CRT is an attack on their children? All of this started from the intentional efforts of Christopher Rufo, an American conservative activist. On March 15, 2021, Rufo tweeted, “the goal is to have the public read something crazy in the newspaper and immediately think ‘critical race theory’…we will eventually turn it toxic, as we put all the various cultural insanities under that brand category”. Rufo’s strategy was to rebrand CRT so that politicians could use it to revitalize some of the same old fights around race and oppression in a new way. According to Arash Javanbakh, Neuroscientist at Wayne State University, “there is a longstanding history of employing the fear of “the others,” turning humans into illogical ruthless weapons, in service to an ideology. Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.”
As a DEI trainer who spends his professional and personal time researching this topic, I have spent the past two years further unpacking the history of CRT so that I can share clear, unbiased research, with others that are interested in learning, rather than just reacting to political propaganda. Critical Race Theory is a more than 40-year old, university-level concept and is most often taught in law school. Despite the claims, CRT does not contend that all White people are inherently racist. In its simplest form, CRT is a way of understanding the persistence of racial inequality in America despite improvements in legal equality.
DEI, on the other hand, promotes the representation and participation of different groups of individuals, including people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills, expertise, sexual orientations, ages, abilities, religions, genders, cultures, races, and ethnicities. In the words of Verna Myers, “diversity is like being asked to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance”, and equity is having the ability to choose what music is played. So, CRT is a lens used in legal discourse, and when DEI is present within an organization, people have a true sense of belonging.
It is no secret that the United States has a long-standing history of racism and oppression. Rather than turn our backs on history as new perspectives, authors, and stories unfold, maybe we could all benefit from acknowledging these few points: First, as individuals and as a society, we must acknowledge that the colonizing of Indigenous lands and enslaving Black and Brown people actually happened. Next, it is important to recognize that by 1861, 80% of our nation’s Gross Domestic Product came from the enslavement of Black and Brown bodies, which means significant generational wealth was built, and still has long-lasting positive effects on dominant communities, and devastating effects on non-dominant communities.
As we learn, we should not shelter our minds and hearts from the truth. The longstanding debate about “revisionist history” is a clear indicator that our democracy is in a very dangerous place. My goal here is not to argue for or against CRT or DEI, but to bring to the table a question: if we let academic and legal theories be misused and retooled as political propaganda intentioned to further divide us, what have we lost as a community and a nation? If our democracy fails at the hands of fear-driven propaganda, it doesn’t just fail for liberals, conservatives, progressives, or moderates, it fails for all of us.
A Family Learns the Truth about Critical Race Theory (CRT)
Parents Change Their Mind about CRT
Parents learn about CRT from Dr. Carol Anderson
Parents learn about Implicit Bias from Dr. Allison Skinner Dorkenoo
Parents learn from Nicole Moore
Parents learn from Dr. Tommy Welch
11Alive. (2021, October 4). These parents questioned critical race theory and DEI programs in public schools. They interviewed experts and here's what they found. https://www.11alive.com/article/news/investigations/cherokee-county-ga-parents-skeptical-critical-race-theory-dei-speak-to-experts/85-8a198b32-ad58-45bc-956f-563b8b5dce90
C.F. Rufo (personal communication, March 15, 2021) stated his plan for using Critical Race Theory. https://twitter.com/realchrisrufo/status/1371540368714428416
Edsall, T. (2021, November 10). Republicans are once again heating up the culture wars. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/10/opinion/republicans-democrats-crt.html
Haldiman, P. (2021, April 20). Group of Peoria Unified parents concerned about inclusion, diversity. Daily Independent. https://www.yourvalley.net/detail.html?sub_id=2c7110d2fc&utm_source=Your+Valley&utm_campaign=92c2248d56-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_10_20_2020_12_5_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_cfc2c291d8-92c2248d56-204876502&ct=t(Y_COPY_01)&mc_cid=92c2248d56&mc_eid=53dd7d0e04
Javanbakht. A. (2019, August 10). A neuroscientist explains how politicians and the media use fear to make us hate without thinking. MarketWatch. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/a-neuroscientist-explains-how-politicians-and-the-media-use-fear-to-make-us-hate-without-thinking-2019-07-18
PUSDOfficialChannel. (2020, December 10). Peoria Unified Governing Board Meeting. [Video]. Youtube. https://youtu.be/5_Lvb6EFkig
Renew Democracy Initiative. (2021). What is critical race theory? https://rdi.org/newsletter/what-is-critical-race-theory/
Wallace-Wells, B. (2021, June 18). How a conservative activist invented the conflict over critical race theory. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/how-a-conservative-activist-invented-the-conflict-over-critical-race-theory