Critical Race Theory Should Inform Public School Education

Date: 06/17/2021With Juneteenth now an official holiday, let’s continue to recognize that our future depends on real talk about the past.
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By Chase Iron Eyes

Juneteenth has now become our first official national holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared in 1983. It’s notable that both holidays celebrate Black history; even so, our nation still has a lot of catching up to do. Even as we give national recognition to the day celebrating the emancipation of the U.S.'s last slaves, we’re hearing a lot of debate in the news cycle about Critical Race Theory (CRT). Rightwing pundits and politicians are, once again, on the rampage, making laws and spinning hate, doing their best to ensure that our children don’t learn what actually happened in the past.

That’s why we’re asking you to tell lawmakers: support the teaching of Critical Race Theory in our schools. If Black and Native children are old enough to experience racism, all kids are old enough to learn about it.

On "Cut to the Chase," I discussed Juneteenth with author and activist Kimberly Jones, starting at about 1:13. But watch the whole show!

As allies, we must understand the details of both Juneteenth and CRT. In the United States, the last enslaved person (that we know of) died in 1972, and people my grandparents’ age were emancipated from American slavery. Consider that you have spoken to, interacted with, or lived next to a formerly enslaved person or their direct descendant.

I can already anticipate some of the comments from the haters: “Oh, but the Emancipation Proclamation was way back in 1862” or “slavery was just a dark chapter in American history.” Not so much. The enslavement of African people is a main plot point in the American story. We are not disconnected from it, and it was likely much closer to us than we ever cared to ask.

You may have lived through the civil rights movement, and if so, you may have a clearer view that America’s enslavement of people did not happen in the distant past. But way too many of us have never considered just how recent enslavement — and Jim Crow — really are. As allies, we should know better; we should understand how we got here.

The last Indian boarding school closed in 1996.

The last known enslaved person died in 1972.

This is how colonization affects us.

American history, as it’s currently taught, has some gaping holes. I know many are currently shocked about the reality of Indian boarding schools, but it is time for us to stop being surprised that America doesn’t want to teach its younger generations these truths. It’s easier to feel pride in America when its history is taught like this, “Once upon a time, a long long time ago…” with erroneous, whitewashing platitudes like “Christopher Columbus discovered America.”

Listening and learning isn’t the hardest work. We must take action. Every day we don’t, we lose more Black lives.

Let’s all get motivated. There is no way to talk about the work that we as non-Black Americans need to do without real discomfort. Because racism is still very American — even if many of us have been listening and learning for a long, long time.

Cathrine Pugh Esq. tells us that Black hate did not originate in Black communities, and was not sheltered and nurtured for years in Black communities. Black People do not co-own racism.

I can already hear rightwing critics saying, “I don’t see color; I have Black friends; I’m not racist; stop spreading hate.” If we can’t see color, then how do we do anything to stop the racism that kills Black People? It’s pretty hard to fight something you say you can’t see. Let me be clear, deflecting responsibility to preserve comfort is killing our Black relatives.

And being Native isn’t all flute music, pow-wows, and braids. Right now, being Native means that I have to ask you to see my Black relatives as your Black relatives and protect them. You stood with us to fight pipelines; you know how ugly the truth can get, especially when we speak that truth to power.

Our Black relatives have been dying, while many Americans decide how best to learn and inform themselves about Juneteenth. Let’s worry less about honoring the day many people didn’t know existed until last year, and more about stepping into discomfort to protect Black lives. As a Native person, I am a co-resistor for Black Lives; I do not speak for Black or Brown communities; and they aren’t a monolith. I simply know that my liberation is tied to Black Liberation.

Being an ally is about disrupting oppressive spaces by educating others on the realities and histories of marginalized people. An accomplice works within a system and “directly challenges institutionalized/systemic racism, colonization, and white supremacy by blocking or impeding racist people, policies, and structures.” Being a co-resistor is about standing together, as an ensemble, in resistance against oppressive forces. This requires constant learning. We must combine theory and practice by establishing relationships and being deeply involved within a community that informs how one listens critically, understands an issue, and influences the way one goes about disrupting oppressive institutions and systems.

You can see the necessary progression of allyship in these terms. Allyship requires growth. Often, that growth is uncomfortable. You will not always feel good when you are unlearning the systems of colonization, patriarchy, and white supremacy that we grew up in. It has affected us all. It requires a paradigm shift. That shift is exactly why I’m writing to you today, and exactly why we must teach CRT to our children, starting young.

It’s easier to learn the truth in the first place, rather than unlearn all of these systems. Let’s do our children a favor and be the people who break this intergenerational pattern. But how can anyone teach the reality of white supremacy, colonization, and patriarchy? Lucky for all of us, a practice already exists to achieve these very outcomes — and it’s called Critical Race Theory.

So what is CRT, exactly? CRT is not a curriculum; it is a lens and a practice. Simply put, “In the K-12 classroom, CRT can be an approach to help students understand how racism has endured past the civil rights era through systems, laws, and policies — and how those same systems, laws, and policies can be transformed.”

Practically, including CRT's lens in the classrooms means tearing out racism, patriarchy, and colonization — root and stem — before they have a chance to blossom. All Americans were raised under these systems and we continue to be affected by them today.

It’s time to start teaching history from a place of truth. We have to be brave enough to lean into our discomfort. Right now we can deepen our allyship for our Black relatives and honor the next seven generations, not just by creating a “holiday” that acknowledges the enslavement of Black People, but by including the perspectives advanced by CRT in our K-12 public school classrooms.

Please start by signing the petition that lets lawmakers know we’re watching them and we want forward progress through real, institutionalized change.

But after that, remember, there is more work to do. Black People need us to progress in our solidarity and fully commit to what it really means to be allies.

* This blog was written by an Indigenous person for an audience of Indigenous allies. The author, in no way, purports to speak for or over Black voices.

** Black authors have written extensively about this topic. I recommend an article by Catherine Pugh, Esq. called “There is No Such Thing as a White Ally.”

*** The definitions of ally, accomplice, and co-resistor are from the Indigenous Ally Toolkit by the Reseau Network: https://reseaumtlnetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Ally_March.pdf

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