Anti-Racist Leadership in CRiTical Times

As a life-long anti-racist educator, my best advice to my fellow educators to the recent wave of anti-Critical Race Theory legislation is to simply read the House Bills. In reality, the language in the Bills make a lot of sense. They are not big scary legislative monsters the media has made them out to be. They are not written by learned scholars of race and history, nor are the crafted to muzzle those of us who have always practiced anti-racism. At best, they are written by frightened members of society who experience their imagined loss of privilege (aka — renewed calls for ensuring the civil rights of citizens of color) as oppression; or, at worse, politicians who need to take a stance on race opposite the rival party in order to stabilize their base.

To make sense of this new legislation, I respond to each of the 14 salient points in Tennessee’s House Bill 580 to illustrate that I agree with a majority of the bill and how it will not stop anti-racist educators from fervently carrying forth our mission to alleviate the oppression of students and communities of color.

SECTION 51. Tennessee Code Annotated, Title 49, Chapter 6, Part 10, is amended by adding the following as a new section:

(a) An LEA or public charter school shall not include or promote the following concepts as part of a course of instruction or in a curriculum or instructional program, or allow teachers or other employees of the LEA or public charter school to use supplemental instructional materials that include or promote the following concepts:

(1) One (1) race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex;

  • I absolutely agree. However, history has shown us the racism and sexism have negatively affected people of color and women.

(2) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously;

- Absolutely agreed. No one is born inherently privileged, racist, sexist, or oppressive. Our societal construct socializes each of us based on our ascribed identity.

(3) An individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment because of the individual’s race or sex;

- 100%. While we do not teach this explicitly in the schoolhouse, educators, of all races and genders, bring in and pass on, our learned biases every day.

(4) An individual’s moral character is determined by the individual’s race or sex;

- Couldn’t agree more. We are not born with a moral character, it is learned via family, education, religion, etc.

(5) An individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex;

- I concur. It is the laws and history of the collective citizenry who bear the burden of righting past wrongs that continue to plague oppressed members of society.

(6) An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex;

- Absolutely! We need to increase our efforts 10-fold to alleviate the psychological and social-emotional distress our students of color experience in our schoolhouses as a result of racial microaggressions, structural racism, and racially insensitive curriculum.

(7) A meritocracy is inherently racist or sexist, or designed by a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex;

- Couldn’t agree more. However, our meritocracy plus historical oppression has given White citizens a head start on the accrual of wealth and power at the expense of citizens of color.

(8) This state or the United States is fundamentally or irredeemably racist or sexist;

- I believe in redemption. Without the belief that our great country can and will right past wrongs, the drive of anti-racist educators is moot.

(9) Promoting or advocating the violent overthrow of the United States government;

- Yes. Anti-racists are Americans too.

(10) Promoting division between, or resentment of, a race, sex, religion, creed, nonviolent political affiliation, social class, or class of people;

- The “ayes” have it! The goal of anti-racist educators is to bring our country together and heal divisions through a process of reconciliation of how our unfortunate past continues to haunt us and what we can do about it.

(11) Ascribing character traits, values, moral or ethical codes, privileges, or beliefs to a race or sex, or to an individual because of the individual’s race or sex;

- Couldn’t agree more (see my response to #5 above).

(12) The rule of law does not exist, but instead is a series of power relationships and struggles among racial or other groups;

- In a color and gender-less society this would make sense. However, as history has proven, a clear majority of our laws, policies, and house bills have been developed by White men.

(13) All Americans are not created equal and are not endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, including, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;

- Of course! However, constructs such as Native American genocide, chattel slavery, and Japanese internment have historically been in violation of this statement and our children deserve to learn about them so they do not repeat our past mistakes

(14) Governments should deny to any person within the government’s jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.

- Absolutely. But, they have, unfortunately.

This legislation does not address any of the five tenets of Critical Race Theory. Some of it is common sense and some has been interpreted though a lens of fear. I hope this close reading of one House Bill encourages others of us to do the same. Surprisingly, most of the items make sense and do not handcuff anti-racist educators from doing what we have always done; resist for the promise of a better future.

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Dr. Tracey A. Benson

Dr. Tracey A. Benson

Anti-Racist Education Leadership Consultant & Founder of Tracey A. Benson Constulting