Tennessee Law Passed to Ban Critical Race Theory in Public Schools as Nation Grapples with Racist History

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In a controversial action, the Tennessee legislature passed a law to ban “critical race theory” from being taught in all state public schools.

The new concept is being taught to students of all ages and races by educators to support all races within schools to be given an equal education.

The overall concept of Critical Race Theory is that US laws and institutions are racist since they were founded upon socially constructed concepts and principles created only by white people, oftentimes to push their own interests while hurting other races.

The new Tennessee law forbids any state schools from teaching the critical race theory that states the US is a racist nation or that US citizens either benefit or experience oppression due to their race. The theory purports entire races, such as whites, are responsible for past racist acts toward people of a different race.

Lawmakers in Idaho are also proposing laws to ban Critical Race Theory. In Texas, parents are protesting efforts within schools to offer classes in "cultural awareness" of all races within schools.

The concept was first discussed long ago by writers and civil rights activists such as W.E.B. DuBois, Pauli Murray, and Fannie Lou Hamer before re-emerging as a national educational theory during the rise of Black Lives Matter.

Critical Race Theory is now responsible for over two-hundred-fifty law review articles and plenty of discussion among attorneys, educators, and legislators.

Critical Race Theory, once considered a radical concept, is being embraced and taught in training courses in about two hundred colleges and universities in the US. It is also being discussed in classrooms from K-12 and within local, regional, and state governments plus businesses.

Some of the leading institutions offering classes or training in Critical Race Theory include Harvard, Cornell, The Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes of Health, and many more.

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University and founding member of the theory, said the concept is vital to the entire American public.

"Critical race theory is a practice," said Crenshaw in an interview with CNN. "It's an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what's in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it."

Current President Joe Biden is supportive of the concept and has rolled out initiatives to support the idea, including education about systemic racism in the US and a robust plan to teach children about the history of racism.

Biden’s position stands in sharp contrast to former President Trump's objections to the theory. Trump banned federal agencies from conducting any racial sensitivity training related to Critical Race Theory, calling it "divisive, anti-American propaganda," and "Marxist."

Proponents of Critical Race Theory believe racism is an everyday experience for people of color and that most of white society has no interest in changing their mostly white power base. The concept was first founded upon a new way to examine how well-established laws support inequality and racism.

The American Bar Association published an article about the emerging legal topic, "A Lesson on Critical Race Theory," written by Janel George in January. George, a Senior Education Policy Counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., explains how the theory works and why she believes it matters.

"RT is not a diversity and inclusion "training" but a practice of integrating race and racism in a society that emerged in the legal academy and spread to other fields of scholarship," wrote George. She explains in her article, “Crenshaw—who coined the term "CRT"—notes that CRT is not a noun, but a verb. It cannot be confined to a static and narrow definition but is considered to be an evolving and malleable practice. It critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers. CRT also recognizes that race intersects with other identities, including sexuality, gender identity, and others. CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past. Instead, it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation."

As Crenshaw sees it, attacks upon Critical Race Theory are nothing new for people of color in the US.

"It bears acknowledging that we've been here before," said Crenshaw. "For his non-violent agitation for civil rights, MLK was targeted by the FBI as the most dangerous man in America."

Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli
Diane Lilli is an award winning Journalist, Editor and Author for over 18 years for New Jersey news outlets (print and online) including launching the first daily digital newspaper in 2005, Jersey Tomato Press. She has been published in numerous newspapers; journals; magazines and literary publications nationally and is the winner of the Shirley Chisholm Journalism Award.