Every terrible bill needs a boogeyman, and HB 322, the legislation introduced by State Rep. Don Jones last week, has one: Critical Race Theory, or CRT.
Critical Race Theory is an academic concept that simply helps us understand and examine the continued, insidious impact of systemic racism in American life. It explores the root causes behind the “systems” of racism — the laws, policies and practices — that have denied the American dream for far too many Black and brown citizens for hundreds of years.
Jones’ bill would prohibit the teaching of CRT or any of its “concepts” — concepts that explore just how historically rigged the “system” is against people of color (and Blacks in particular), in so many ways including: voting, banking and lending, child care, compensation, employment, education, health care, housing, justice, law enforcement, public transportation, waste management, and zoning.
This legislation may have many co-sponsors (27 and counting), but make no mistake — fear is the real author of bills like HB 322. The principal goal of this bill is to divert attention away from the real, systemic problems we face as a people, as a community and as a nation, and to stoke fear that we are too fragile to honestly reckon with our past — and present — societal challenges.
The real thrust of this proposed law is to discourage any teaching that dares to explore tough subjects — subjects like slavery and race, and the systems and laws that have led to uneven justice, redlined neighborhoods, poorer health outcomes and barriers to the ballot box for Black and brown people.
No, Mr. Jones, these are not easy subjects to discuss, but discuss and debate them we must. Putting our collective heads in the sand does not make our problems go away; it only delays the ultimate reckoning and makes them worse. Far worse.
Supporters of this measure fear that a truthful, more complete accounting of current and historical events will somehow shake the very foundations of their worldview.
And on that we agree: It is time, beyond time, to shake things up and do what’s right. Call your state legislators and urge them to support teachers and the honest teaching of our perfectly imperfect history, and to vote down any attempts to hide it, obscure it or run from it.
Stand up. Speak out. Take action.
Geraldine Hayes Nelson, President of the Portage County NAACP