Illustration depicting a white-presenting youth reading "To Kill a Mockingbird" with a light labeled as "Mis-Information" casting an intimidating shadow with "CRT" on its belly. A group of white-presenting individuals cower in fear and terror at the shadow.

OPINION: Before You Rage Against Critical Race Theory, It Might Be Helpful to Understand It

by Marcus Harrison Green

(This article is copublished with The Seattle Times.)

Valued reader, I really need you to ask yourself a question: Do you know what critical race theory (CRT) is? 

Can you explain where and why it originated, and its core tenets?  

Moreover, do you really believe it’s being force-fed into our children’s brains, hardwiring them to believe that every single white person in existence reeks with wickedness? 

Though it’s been a news-cycle fixture since last year, I’m going to guess that a large number of you probably can’t. Fret not. In my experience, CRT rests soundly beside cryptocurrency in the category of things people pretend to understand but don’t. 

What isn’t fine is the large quantity of people continuing not only to claim knowledge of CRT but to willfully miscategorize it, exaggerate its adoption in schools, and overstate its pervasiveness in wider society. Whether intentional or unintentional, that damages our ability to pay the ultimate debt we owe our children: honesty about ourselves. 

For the record, CRT originated as a field of academic study from 1970s legal scholarship, led by Derrick Bell, that described how racism influences the gears of our nation’s legal, education, health care, and other social systems. The theoretical framework is most often encountered in the halls of higher education, and — fun fact — can count both Mexican and Asian Americans as founders. 

What it is not, on its own, is the embrace and implementation of a culturally inclusive, responsive, and adaptive curriculum. That would be found in things like expanded ethnic studies courses, and diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings such as those required of all Washington State school district staff by Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5044, signed into law in April. 

I can see why detractors in the five states with laws already on the books banning CRT in public schools — or in the 36 states that have either moved or are moving in that direction — could be confused. Inclusive education, cultural competency, non-Eurocentric education — all sound like euphemisms for “anti-white racism” to the willfully incurious, I suppose. 

Here in Washington, House Bill 1807 was given a public hearing in the House Education Committee on Jan. 25. The bill claims to create a “uniform civics education” while forbidding training for public school employees that references the United States as “fundamentally or ‘structurally’ racist or sexist,” according to the bill’s text. It also specifically names The 1619 Project and How to Be an Antiracist as books that could effectively only be taught alongside “opposing” literature.  

During the hearing, committee chair Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-South Seattle, asked the bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, to clarify what “actual professionals on matters of pedagogy” he and the bill’s sponsors had consulted in forming the bill’s list of texts and foundational documents to be included in this civic education course.

None, was his answer. 

Although a titanic waste of time, the bill epitomizes the crux of this campaign of vapid legislative proposals dressed up as “color-blind” curriculum: No presentation of knowledge is ever neutral. It is a clash between what we omit and what we prioritize.

Fear of the nearly half-century-old critical race theory is nothing but a useful device to ensure that our society refrains from prioritizing a history, and thereby future, of America that strings together multiple threads of cultural experience in creating a complete tapestry.

More importantly, this outrage over a manufactured crisis drowns out the desires, pleas, and experiences of our students of color who continue to have higher rates of expulsion, dropouts, and depression.

It attempts to drown out the voices we should actually be listening to if we are serious about teaching our children critical thought, agency, and complexity about this world.

We need to listen to Anjali Dixit, a student at Liberty High School in the Renton School District who two years ago had a schoolmate spell out KKK during a cheer, and use the N-word in reference to Black people.

“When we try to silence history and stop talking about the things that have actually happened, we’re bound to repeat it. And that’s something that’s so relevant when we stop teaching our kids about the history that people have truly lived through,” said Dixit, who is also a member of the NAACP Youth Council.

When I listen to her, I don’t hear hatred. I don’t hear retaliatory rhetoric for past injustice. I don’t hear calls for the exclusion of anyone. 

What I hear is someone thinking critically about the formation and continuation of a society whose scions of color receive subordinate regard.

It’s a shame more adults can’t think like her.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Marcus Harrison Green

Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced first-hand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilling stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose of telling stories with nuance, complexity, and multidimensionality with the hope of advancing social change. This led him to become a writer and found the South Seattle Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

🎨 Featured illustration by Vladimir Verano.

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