Now, I usually mind my own business when I overhear a conversation, but that wasn’t the case last week in the YMCA pool while I waited for my water aerobics class to start. I warmed up slowly and listened lazily to a conversation between a man and a woman walking on the water nearby. I wouldn’t say that I “know” them but they are also regulars.
Then I heard her ask him, “What is this ‘critical race theory?’ “
And he began to respond, “It teaches children that from the moment they’re born they’re guilty.”
In fact, I felt my blood boil because of what I considered to be a gross misinterpretation. I charged through the 10 feet of water between us.
“Wait wait!” I said. “That’s not what it is at all.”
He turned to me and said firmly, “You can have your opinion but I speak. “
For a second, I thought it might escalate into a screaming match, something completely out of my comfort zone. So I stepped back and chose a somewhat distant exercise location at the start of the course. But I could hear the rest of his response, an overwhelmingly negative and incorrect account of critical race theory as I understand it.
I was angry. Which was actually good for my energy level as I jogged and kicked and vigorously pushed and pulled the water resistant dumbbells. And I thought during the whole lesson about what had just happened.
He was a man I had spoken to several times in the past. He and his wife had recently taken a scuba diving trip to Tahiti, and I had told him about my experiences diving in the Red Sea many years ago. We had also commented on teachers and classes when they resumed earlier this year.
And, while the Y shouldn’t be a place for political discussion, I had heard him explain during the recall election that he was all for it and continue to criticize Gov. Gavin Newsom. Which was appalling but didn’t make me angry.
Now I had 45 minutes of exercise time to think about what was making me so angry that I had immersed myself in their conversation. What had I hoped to gain from it? And now, what should I do, if necessary? I took my decision.
At the end of class, as everyone was drying off and packing, I grabbed my things and walked over to the guy.
“Excuse me,” I said, and he looked up. “I want to tell you I’m sorry.”
He smiled slightly and mumbled something like, “It’s okay.”
“I shouldn’t have interrupted you,” I continued. “And I’m sure we have things in common that we can agree on.”
I took a break.
“We both love water aerobics,” I said.
Then he laughs pleasantly. I responded in kind and left.
My understanding of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is that it includes the lives of black residents in American history and the impact of slavery from the beginning. It sounds quite different from my upbringing in the 1950s. It was relatively recently, reading Jill Lepore’s “These Truths: The History of the United States,” that I got a broader view of the founding and the first years of our nation.
But I’m aware of the great gap in America between fact and alternative facts, so I went on good ol ‘Merriam-Webster – online because it needed to be up to date – and found the following definition:
Critical Race Theory: “a group of concepts (such as the idea that race is a sociological rather than a biological designation, and that racism permeates society and is encouraged and perpetuated by the legal system) used to examine the relationship between race and the laws and legal institutions of a country and in particular the United States.
Learning the full history of our country and its institutions and how and why the laws were passed sounds like the definition of education to me. And I don’t feel any guilt for the actions of my ancestors, only sadness for the injustices.
These issues, historical and current, seem like a good thing to explore and discuss – without stopping – so that we can move forward in a better way.
Editor’s Note: Dolores Fox Ciardelli is the Tri-Valley Life Editor for Pleasanton Weekly. Her column, “Valley Views”, appears on the second and fourth Friday of each month.