I really despise writing about these topics, but here I am. I have a general rule from campaigns that you keep your opponent’s name out of your mouth- there’s no need to draw attention to something you do not want to keep in the news. Yet I’ve got the time today and I find the discussion of Critical Race Theory to be rife with foolishness, half-assed policy writing, and general white fear that has manifested in a bunch of white men metaphorically clutching their pearls and searching for the nearest fainting couch. It’s bewildering to me the masses of men who pride themselves on their hunting or business prowess, their propensity for gunpowder and croakies somehow are whittled down to fretting masses at the discussion of systematic oppression. It’s as if the snowflake moniker was a boomerang they fashioned to point one finger at their opposition while pointing three at themselves.
I’d like to begin by talking about what Critical Race Theory is NOT:
- A curriculum
- A rubric by which scholastic endeavors may be tested
- A practice that is currently employed in Georgia schools
- A practice of instilling white guilt
- A means of Black Power
Critical Race Theory is the examination of the United States federal government and its programs that have contributed to White Supremacy and systematic racism. Examples of this are:
- Red lining
- Mortgage companies refusing mortgages to Black families (and other people of color) because the federal government would not insure the mortgage loans
- Greenwood: no insurance pay-outs for burned homes and businesses, not a single person held accountable for damages in the court system, entire fortunes lost because banks burned and had no records
- Rosewood: same ish, different city
The history of White Supremacy and hate groups in America’s efforts to influence mainstream practices like White Flight, Separate but Equal laws, and a judicial system that imprisons more Black people than white people is also a component of the academic analysis. Critical Race Theory is an analysis of practices that have contributed to the racial barriers in the past, present, and a recognition that both of those contribute to ALL Americans’ futures. These practices are facts. The theory part is that these practices do not exist in a vacuum and they have ramifications for folks today- everyone. Critical Race Theory has been around since the 1970s and has largely been focused on scholarly discussions in law classrooms.
The state of Georgia’s Board of Education hastily wrote some piss-poor policy on this a couple of weeks ago, and this solution in search of a problem is one of the hopeful Republican talking points for our education. It reminds me of RFRA a few years back. I expect to see this come up in some GOP races, along with Kemp’s tiny bonus for teachers as the wins Republicans can deliver for the white suburbanites and rural votes. The GA GOP is soooooooo hopeful we’ll forget their cowardice of the past almost 20 years to address QBE, or to answer it by siphoning off public school funding via charter schools because our legislature doesn’t have the brains in heads to think that hard.
I could blame the Governor more, yet I would have to believe he had more intelligence than he’s presented to do that. Afterall, his Ag school education was stretched thin when he had to misremember how quarantines worked. There’s no self-respecting member of the FFA or 4-H in Georgia that doesn’t understand qurantines. But I digress. Sigh.
I really enjoy listening to Brian Robinson and Tharon Johnson’s “Political Breakfast”. I really love the way Brian strings words together in a line so that, in Churchill fashion, he tells someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. He and I both attended segregation academies, and perhaps this gift of language is something to which we both can attribute to our education in these spaces. He asserted the Georgia Board of Education is merely trying to instill in Georgia’s children a pride and patriotism. He did not state directly when young Georgians should be taught about the “flaws” of America, as he put it. I suppose there is an implicit argument for maturity that is requisite for understanding. I would say though that if Black children are old enough to experience racism, shouldn’t white children learn of its effects? Another way of stating Brian’s point might be that Georgia children are to be taught history by those in power, with the stories of those not in power relegated to the short sections in the latter part of their chapters. Maybe that was just MY history books; not his. This is the way our history has been taught always and forever amen, so why SHOULD we change that? Why WOULD we wish to inform young and old alike that there is more to this story and differing accounts of history so that they might piece together their own more complex view of it?
Because one of the six key words to land a job in an interview at Amazon is the term “empathy”.
Now I won’t wax philosophically about the moral ramifications nor the importance of emphasizing equality or racial justice. I don’t find those ideals resonate with Republicans much today.
But you know what does? Economic development.
In the midst of all this wringing of hands on the matter, Georgia seems to be missing the bigger picture: a lack of knowledge of others and their struggles allows us to relate to folks better in business as well as in society as a whole. This isn’t just a racial matter, this is a dearth of knowledge matter where our state is literally making space for our teachers to leave certain parts out of history because it makes some folks uncomfortable. Imagine when those kids grow up and they have to compete in a job market where they aren’t in the majority. Imagine if they’re trying to win the business of folks in their community as their community changes.
My husband likes to patronize the ACE hardware down the street, in the West End of Atlanta. He goes in, tells the folks there whatever problem is currently challenging him, and despite not knowing the exact terminology, the employees meet him where he is and try to find a workable solution. Up the street from them, my husband and I have patronized the Benjamin Moore paint store, owned and operated by Thomas Sr. and now Thomas Jr. since 1964, who personally walk every customer (male/female/nonbinary, rain or shine) out carrying their paint to their car.
White folks like receipts, and these folks got ‘em.
The fact that we’re different races matters in that they recognize our knowledge of the neighborhood and homes isn’t as vast as theirs from experience of living here post white flight. They listen to us stumble through explanations of our cabinets, walls (plaster), lighting, and whatever else to make certain we get what we need. Their empathy helps us and in turn, we return to their businesses.
Now take that and apply it to Facebook, Airbnb, Microsoft, Google, and Coca-Cola. If Georgia wants to compete in a global economy, our children need to know how to empathize with others who don’t look like them.
This empathy is relatively new to white Americans, and we have quite a pattern of rewriting history to accommodate our super fragile pride.
The book, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, An Indian History of The American West by Dee Brown is the first history of indigenous Americans as written by an indigenous person. In it, there are two descriptions of the same event:
During the autumn, Navahos who had escaped from the Bosque Redondo began returning to their homeland with frightening accounts of what was happening to the people there. It was a wretched land, they said. The soldiers prodded them with bayonets and herded them into adobe-walled compounds where the soldier chiefs were always counting them and putting numbers down in little books. The soldier chiefs promised them clothing and blankets and better food, but their promises were never kept. All the cottonwood and mesquite had been cut down, so that only roots were left for firewood. To shelter themselves from rain and sun they had to dig holes in the sandy ground, and cover and line them with mats of woven grass. They lived like prairie dogs in burrows. With a few tools the soldiers gave them they broke the soil of the Pecos bottomlands and planted grain, but floods and droughts and insects killed the crops, and now everyone was on half-rations. Crowded together as they were, disease had begun to take a toll of the weaker ones. It was a bad place, and although escape was difficult and dangerous under the watchful eyes of the soldiers, many were risking their lives to get away.
The second description is noticeably different, as told by General Carleton of the U.S.Army:
…“The exodus of this whole people from the land of their fathers is not only an interesting but a touching sight. They have fought us gallantly for years on years; they have defended their mountains and their stupendous canyons with a heroism which any people might be proud to emulate; but when, at length, they found it was their destiny, too, as it had been that of their brethren, tribe after tribe, away back toward the rising of the sun, to give way to the insatiable progress of our race, they threw down their arms, and, as brave men entitled to our admiration and respect, have come to us with confidence in our magnanimity, and feeling that we are too powerful and too just a people to repay that confidence with meanness or neglect—feeling that having sacrificed to us their beautiful country, their homes, the associations of their lives, the scenes rendered classic in their traditions, we will not dole out to them a miser’s pittance in return for what they know to be and what we know to be a princely realm.”Long Walk, pp. 164–66; Document in Kelly, Navajo Roundup; Kelleher, William A. Turmoil in New Mexico, 1846–1868. Santa Fe, Rydal Press, 1952, p. 441.
There is no question of whether or not the event occurred, yet depending upon which account you read, you will have a markedly different view of the details. The white American genocide of indigenous people has been both ignored and its results glorified in Westerns, Boomer culture (who remembers the crying Indian?), and its story of White Supremacy is acted out every time school children sit down for Thanksgiving with color on their cheeks and feathers in their hair or they play “cowboys and Indians” in their suburban yards. Only now, after literally centuries of white American pride and propaganda are we reckoning with the reality of these atrocities and with it, recalling the Medals of Honor of the “Indian” Wars.
I grew up in a small town called Social Circle. People held me accountable (and still do) and my family, them. I grew up in a place where Pointer overalls were purchased at Aycock and Milner in Monroe, because my Daddy knew the owners and they treated him well no matter if he came in from the field or in church clothes. They met us where we were, and their empathy and good manners ensured our loyalty. The culture of the South in which I was steeped is not what I see being remade by the GOP today. It’s so foreign to me, in fact. Southern culture has fast become this white washed, culturally bland haze that references sweet tea and smocking that can easily be culturally appropriated via a Nashville bachelorette party for the weekend.
That ain’t it, y’all.
Southern culture is largely influenced by Black and brown Americans, always has been, and always shall be. It is a dynamic culture, rich with storytelling indigenous to the Delta, clipped accents in the low country, and food, lawwwwwwd, we have food that descends from pre-Bibilical Western African roots brought over here by the slave trade. Southern culture is not sugary sweet- heavens no! We are the bold taste of pecan shells mixed with coffee beans because some of us valued White Supremacy more than we valued the human lives that produced our coffee and crops. Have we not learned? Must we continue to drink the bitter history of our ancestors while we change so little?
When we know better, we have the chance to do better.
If we don’t make space for Georgia’s children to learn of Greenwood, Wounded Knee, or Stonewall, then how can we expect them to be upwardly mobile in a quickly changing world? How will they meet people where they are, and offer positive business and communal relationships? How will they demonstrate empathy if they’ve never been tested on its application? If the expectation is for global companies to bend to this sterilized version of American history, we better enjoy seeing MADE IN CHINA labels on all our products because that’s where we’re headed. Or maybe, we’re just giving the brain drain Georgia sees an extra added push. Either way, it’s a bad look and sacrifices Georgia’s kids’ future on the altar of their parents’ egos. I think the very thing the State Board of Education hopes will instill pride in our children may be in fact, the first source of anger and sting of insult when they realize how little they (and we) have learned about our own past.