When we were on the beach at Anna Maria Island last spring, we met a group of thirtysomethings from Indiana with their young children. We learned that their children all attended the same Catholic school in Indiana. One of the parents said to me, “We don’t want our children to go to a school where they will be taught critical race theory and all that.
Attend a right-wing political rally or listen to media firebrands like Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity, and you might hear Critical Race Theory (CRT) portrayed as an infamous liberal plot to hit America and make it worse. make white kids feel bad. Unfortunately, fear sells.
Despite the fear campaigns, “critical race theory” is not “taught” in public schools in this country. Rather, critical race theory is just a movement of civil rights scholars who critically examine laws and legislation and how they intersect with race issues. As one scholar observed, “It is not a threat to democracy, but the search for its demise most certainly is. The suggestion that we should teach whitewashed history is an attack on America’s richest ideals.
I read “Battle Cry of Freedom,” James McPherson’s superb Pulitzer Prize-winning book, a gripping portrait of America in the years leading up to and during the Civil War. At that time, the Republican Party was, relatively speaking, the “progressive party,” at least as far as issues of race were concerned. The Democratic Party, largely led by Southern politicians, was determined to preserve “states rights,” or let’s not mince words, the institution of slavery.
Republicans were trying to move toward racial egalitarianism, a prospect that horrified Democrats. As the book notes, “Republicans had increased their vulnerability on the issue by placing a constitutional amendment to enfranchise blacks on the ballot in New York State. “If you want to vote side by side with a fat nigger”,
chanted Democratic speakers and editors, “If you want to support a party that says a Negro is better than an Irishman, then vote for the Republican candidate.” And so on.
Germany has not whitewashed its past. Teaching the subject of the Holocaust and the Nazi era is compulsory in German schools, and nearly every student has visited either a concentration camp or a Holocaust memorial or museum. Also, the “Hell Hitler” greeting is illegal in Germany.
It would be instructive for all Americans to visit or at least see a video of the National Peace and Justice Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. The museum is dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy. It demands accountability for the lynching of thousands of black people in a decades-long campaign of racial unrest.
People who believe that we should face our past don’t “hate America,” as some right-wing brandies would have us believe. Rather, it is a way of learning about our history, so as not to repeat the same mistakes. That’s not a bad thing.
No individual is perfect just as no nation is perfect. After all, shouldn’t we, as individuals, recognize our own mistakes, at least towards ourselves? That doesn’t mean we should fight or wallow in the past. It means that we should always strive to become our best selves.
I truly hope that we Americans, now so divided and so filled with resentment, can recognize how we got to this sad state, so that we can move forward into a stronger and more perfect union. We cannot make America great again by making America hate again.
David Treadwell, a writer from Brunswick, welcomes comments and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]
The Conversation: Politicians seek to control classroom discussions of slavery in the United States