I’m pretty sure I was taught something very close to the so-called critical race theory.
Those who decry this theory may be saying “aha” – that I am a testament to the human tragedy that can befall one who is so indoctrinated.
I’ll lay it out and let readers consider whether what I’ve gleaned contains sinister indoctrination or a valuable point of view.
It was 1994. This newspaper sent me to DeGray Lodge for the weekend for one of the Little Rock Our Town Retreats organized by what was then the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and now the National Conference for Community and Justice. The goal was to bring attention to race, simply an issue of our times, especially in Little Rock.
I mostly remember snippets, some powerful ones.
A black lawyer told me during recess that at least I never wrote, as my colleague did, that Little Rock’s schools were over 50 percent black “and getting worse.”
The session leader asked the “European Americans” to raise their hands, and then, as the class members looked at each other, said, “That means white people.”
The woman seated across from me turned and said, as the issue of discrimination against blacks dominated the discussion, “They don’t seem to understand that we’re living in an era of backlash.”
After the weekend retreat, willing participants went to a series of home meetings. One evening in my living room, a black woman said she couldn’t wait for the private black school in Little Rock. I lamented that our community is going through a struggle, both ugly and noble, to desegregate schools along racial lines, and now it yearns for re-segregation.
She urged me to listen to myself: since 1957, white residents of Little Rock increasingly sent their children to racially closed private academies, but it was only when she said that blacks should have this opportunity that the white guy wringed his hands.
She said the law was important—Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act. But if black people want a private school, so what?
I began to see arrogance in my attitude, even white supremacy. I seemed to mean that integration was a missionary work of whites for blacks, placing them in the edifying presence of whites.
We are approaching the harsh truth. But America was not tainted. America tried to get better, one living room at a time.
Following these home meetings, several participants were invited to a special two-day session with people from the Racial Sensitivity Institute in New Orleans. And this is where we got what I think was supposed to be critical racial theory or a close cousin in nascent form.
Here’s what we’ve been told: individual racism doesn’t matter anymore. Individual racists are only their own problem. What matters is the lingering problem that evades and resists the law: entrenched institutional or systemic racism.
One man gave us “the real definition of racism,” which he said was “racial prejudice plus power.”
He was referring to the implicit power that comes from an established culture, an established business community, and established political institutions that come together to control bank lending practices, retail practices, government planning and zoning practices, and general cultural dominance to achieve an outcome whereby blacks have been consolidated. in perpetuating poverty and less opportunity – to get the most wholesome foods, the best teaching in the classroom, the best job opportunities for youth after school and on weekends, and the best infrastructure, leaving them only to liquor stores, drugs and crime.
He told us that you can’t deal with this cancer by simply appointing a black man as the chief of police or head of school. This is an attempt to shorten the path, avoiding harsh but necessary truths.
I found it all not at all un-American, but quintessentially American—a celebration of freedom, self-expression, protection, truth, and introspection.
I went back to the office and wrote a column about how America has always been a great country, but not always a good country, and that greatness was due in large part to our honest opposition and desire to right the wrongs in goodness.
If a run-of-the-mill newspaper hack could get this in a couple of days, then I doubt our ruling conservative politicians need to worry as much as our smartest high schoolers.
“Indoctrination,” conservatives argue, causes people to uncritically accept a set of beliefs. I was uncritical when a black woman aspired to black private schools. I could call “BS”. She and I were also free in a spirited exchange of opinions. And I was free to start this slightly uncomfortable dialogue in order to understand her point of view in a way that I could not before.
This is more education than indoctrination.
These smart guys today tend to call “BS” no less willingly than I do.
We need to better define and define our terms in this discussion. And we need to understand that America doesn’t need fairy tales or other protection from reality to be great.
If a teacher anywhere in Arkansas tells students that America is evil, fire the teacher. But if the natural development of education entails citing examples of America’s failures in good deeds, then I think our most successful high school students could not only cope, but grow.
Then, as more lights go on in the brains of individual Americans, the countryside in America becomes brighter.
John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers Hall of Fame. Write to him at [email protected] Check out his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.