By Joel A. Bowman, Sr.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” These are the often-repeated words of Spanish philosopher, George Santayana. They are simple, yet profound. However, it is clear that many Americans are currently showing signs of selective amnesia when it comes to the history of racism in the United States.
It’s not that such individuals cannot remember America’s racist past, they are choosing to ignore it. Racism is like a cancerous tumor that has been imbedded in America since her inception. Just like denying the existence of a malignant tumor doesn’t make the cancer go away, denying America’s racist history doesn’t render it powerless.
Many are engaged in something even more sinister than mere denial. They are actively suppressing the accurate teaching of American history. One cannot present a complete historical narrative without addressing the far-reaching impact of systemic racism on the country. American history that is devoid of any meaningful discussion of race and racism invariably leads to the acceptance of a false, whitewashed narrative.
The current movement to ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K-12 schools is a prime example of suppressive tactics rooted in propaganda. The interesting thing about these tactics is that, in a sense, they really aren’t all that new. CRT has been made the latest “Boogie Man” or “Weapon of Mass Distraction” deployed by the far right against those who are seeking to advocate for racial justice. CRT has been effectively weaponized by politicians, evangelical leaders, parents, and school board members to play on the fears of white people.
When challenged, many of the most vocal CRT critics can’t even accurately define it. In reality, it’s not CRT they’re protesting. Rather, it’s any honest discussion about how systemic racism has impacted and continues to impact America. In the minds of many, CRT is any discussion of race or racism that makes white people uncomfortable.
But, what is CRT, really? According to the American Bar Association, CRT is a field of intellectual inquiry that demonstrates the legal codification of racism in America. CRT is a framework of analysis originated in the mid-1970s which is not routinely taught in K-12 schools, but only as an elective in certain law schools.
I’d dare say the average CRT critic has never read any primary sources related to CRT written by legal scholars such as Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Richard Delgado, or Cheryl Harris.
Not only do we see suppression of America’s racist history in all the anti-CRT hysteria, but also in the banning of books. In a 4-3 vote, the Wentzville School Board, in Missouri, voted to ban the late Toni Morrison’s book, “The Bluest Eye.” The acclaimed book details the experiences of a young Black girl living in the wake of The Great Depression.
Morrison’s book “Beloved,” which portrays the atrocities of slavery, has also been targeted by those who want it banned.
While I concede that parents have certain rights, I also believe the educators have a responsibility to provide a full view of history, however ugly it might be. It is only when Americans reckon with the ugliness of racism and white supremacy that we will not be condemned to repeat the past. Otherwise, we will continue to circle back to the place at which we currently find ourselves.
By Joel A. Bowman, Sr.