opinion

Critical Race Theory is no personal problem

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I don’t really know enough about Critical Race Theory to write at length about it, but I know that these days I love any phrase with the word “CRITICAL” in it. Emotion has reigned for too long, creating chaos and life-threatening conditions. Today, I long for my writing classroom where logic, ethics, questions and verification led the way, as it did with one of my students who wanted to examine cohabitation. 

Cohabitation is when an unmarried couple lives together. Presumably they sleep together. Which is a phrase meaning sex. 

Back in the day, way back in the day, the righteous folk called it living in sin. Which is another way of saying, sex. 

My student — a white guy — was living with his girlfriend and seemed to be looking for validation, to know that what they were doing was OK. Maybe he was still defending their arrangement to his mother. I knew I wasn’t going to give him approval. I am one of 13 children raised in a house with one small bathroom. I don’t live with anybody that I don’t have to. 

My student would get more sympathy from Aretha Franklin, who sang, who’s zooming who?

That’s also a saying for sex. 

When students bring a part of their lives to class, as the teacher you know the thing is a personal problem. The college composition classroom provides opportunity to look at personal problems to try to understand why the particular thing, like living together, is a problem. It is the place to be critical, to examine its economics, morals, and in terms of the future. 

One can ask, based on all available information, does this make sense for the long run, or is it just another train wreck on the tracks of life?

My student did the research about cohabitation and came back to class to tell me the data showed that couples who live together have a lower rate of marriage than couples who wait until after saying “I do” to cohabit. 

From his sad face, it was clear that he wanted that not to be true. He wanted to believe that people still buy the cow after getting the milk for free. 

That is also a saying for sex. 

My instruction was to write an argument he could support. Just as emotion swings some people every way but loose, data is king for some people, mostly men. But my student’s data was a problem. Perplexed, he looked at me, then said, “I won’t put it in my paper. Who’s to know?”

I pointed to myself. “I know. You just told me.” 

He looked crushed. Now he would have to work harder to overcome that data, or concede the point. Or change his position and say that living together wasn’t such a good idea. Even though he was doing it. What then? He might have to adjust his life. 

Or he might persist with his idea of not putting the data in his paper — and fail my class. 

I forget what happened, pass or fail for him, but his idea to unknow the data seems to be very much like what is going on today with Critical Race Theory. According to the Brookings Institution, eight states have adopted laws banning CRT. This nonprofit public policy organization, based in Washington, D.C., reports that nearly 20 additional states, including Michigan, are considering legislation to ban schools from teaching it. 

People lose their minds over CRT. This is what happened at the public comment period of the June 14 Grand Ledge Board of Education meeting. The meeting had to be continued, like a soap opera, on the next Monday. 

Now that schools are back in this week, I suspect CRT will rise up again, even though in Grand Ledge schools, for one, there is no evidence that CRT was on the instructional agenda.  

In argument theory, that is called a straw dog. There was no one saying, let’s do CRT. But there were plenty of protesters of CRT. One quoted by the Lansing State Journal was not a resident of the school district.  

If they were just teaching what CRT is that would help us all, because it is a graduate school concept that can be challenging to understand, even for me, and I earned a Master’s degree in graduate school. I researched CRT in the ever-accessible Wikipedia and apparently it is a way to explain why so many African Americans are overrepresented in the worst categories of life in the United States. 

At base, CRT says that racism and separate racial outcomes are the result of complex, changing, and often subtle social and institutional dynamics. It is about systems. CRT ranks up there with wonky policy talk — Hi, Mayor Schor — that makes politicians so boring. Critics say CRT elevates storytelling over evidence and reason. It rejects concepts of truth and merit. 

At base, it appears some people are afraid CRT will be used to teach American history to include the story of more citizens, especially African Americans and slavery and Jim Crow and other social changes that have held us down as fatally as Derek Chauvin’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. 

They worry that white kids will be taught to hate themselves because some white people have done awful things to African Americans. In particular.

Data be damned. Emotion is everything. 

It’s not.  

Conserving the image of America and Americans is not the be-all, end-all. There is much about American history of which to be proud. But not race and racism. And it’s not going away because we don’t look at it. The last 400 years is evidence of that. 

American history where slavery in all its many forms have cut against African Americans must be considered.  Michelle Alexander made that case in her book “The New Jim Crow” showing how mass incarceration of Black and brown men was a new form of discrimination, as Jim Crow had been a new form of slavery. Her book is full of compelling evidence and data that is stunning. Before I finished reading her book, I had to put it down several times, so overcome I was by the feeling that living Black in America was being in the belly of beast. 

Someone was making my student think his living with his girlfriend without the sanction of marriage was a problem. It looked like he just wanted to get his “freak” on. 

That is another way of saying sex. 

He saw school as a way to puzzle through the objections to his living situation and resolve it, if only in his mind. The rejection of the teaching of race and racism in the United States, to coin a simple definition of CRT, is a problem and should not be accepted as a way of putting the white dunce cap on another generation. 

(Dedria Humphries Barker, a Lansing resident, chairs of the Andrew and Mary Jane Humphries Foundation. She wrote “Mother of Orphans: The True and Curious Story of Irish Alice, A Colored Man’s Widow.” Her opinion column appears on the last Wednesday of each month.)

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