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Five states (Idaho, Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Tennessee) have passed laws against the teaching of critical race theory while similar bills have been introduced in 19 other states, including Wisconsin.
A common element in these bills is that public schools should not present the foundation of this country in a negative light nor discuss how the white/Caucasian (white from now on) population has benefited at the expense of racial/ethnic minority populations. Critics further argue that critical race theory is divisive.
Critical race theory can be defined as an intellectual framework used in academia to explore and analyze racial inequality in society. A key element of the theory is that society’s legal, economic and educational institutions operate (often in subtle ways) to marginalize racial and ethnic minority populations. As such, this process of marginalization tends to benefit the white population, primarily the wealthy class. Along with critical theory and multicultural education, critical race theory promote equity in society.
We can trace critical race theory to the ‘70s when a number of scholars like Derrick Bell, Richard Delgado and Kimberlé Crenshaw pointed out that the legal system has played a key role in maintaining racial inequality in society in a systemic and pervasive way. Thus, the negative effects of systemic racism is not confined to the legal system, but it is also present in unequal access to jobs, housing and health care as broadly discussed by Diana Kendall in her book “Social Problems in a Diverse Society.” The effects of systemic racism became very visible when the African American and Latino communities were greatly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even though the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was crucial in its attempt to end discrimination, current events (as discussed below) indicate that we still have work to do. When we take a closer look at the criticisms against critical race theory (and multicultural education) we find them lacking in substance and critical analyses.
In order to understand the current context for this debate, we need to go back to the rise of the European powers in the 15th century. Immanuel Wallerstein’s “The Modern World-System” and Eric Wolf’s “Europe and the People without History” illustrate how the British, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese empires exploited human and natural resources in Asia, Africa and the Americas for their enrichment. A common element in these colonization practices was the idea that European values and practices were better, and this justified their exploitation in those areas of the world.
A similar mindset was present in the first white-European settlers who arrived into what today is the United States. The white population generated their economic growth by taking land away from Native Americans (and sending them to reservations), importing Black slaves from Africa and by taking land from Mexico. The actions of the white population were guided by the idea of manifest destiny present in the 19th century. According to this belief, God gave white Europeans the right to expand from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all across North America. This view “justified” the dispossession of Native Americans, the U.S. invasion of Mexico and the expansion of slavery territories.
The critics of critical race theory and their efforts to ban its teaching through state legislatures make it seem as if it is rampart in K-12 schools. This is false! A more accurate discussion on European imperialism and U.S. history are present only in certain courses at the university level and a few courses that incorporate aspects of multicultural education at the high school level.
In my view, the efforts to ban critical race theory reflect changing demographics and the struggle for political control of the country. Reports from the U.S. Census Bureau indicate that whites will become a minority by the year 2045. We see a clear pattern of white population decline and an increase in the number of racial/ethnic minorities. In the year 2000, whites represented 75% of the total population followed by Hispanics (12.5%), African Americans (12.3%) and Asian (3.6%). In 2020, we have Whites (60%), Hispanics (18.5%), African Americans (13.4%) and Asian (5.9%). Projections for 2060 are White (44.3%), Hispanics (27.5%), African Americans (15%) and Asians (9.1%). Of great importance is the fact that the white population is aging, and racial/ethnic minorities will become the engines of economic growth.
Critics of critical race theory cherry-pick information to argue that racism is no longer an issue and often point out that Asian Americans have a higher level of educational attainment than whites. This view ignores the different ways in which the various racial/ethnic groups have been incorporated into the U.S. and how they are viewed by white society. Thus, we have Vietnamese people incorporated as U.S. allies during the Vietnam War. Globalization has led to the expansion of middle class people in China and India, and many have migrated to the U.S. with a college degree. Nevertheless, the political climate in the last four years indicate the prevalence of racism and prejudice toward all non-white people. Thus, we have seen the murder of George Floyd, efforts to stop the Black Lives Matter movement, attacks toward Mexico, Mexicans, Muslims and also toward Asian Americans, who have been blamed (without basis) as being responsible for COVID-19.
Edward Luce’s “The Retreat of Western Liberalism” and Ian Bremmer’s “Us vs Them” illustrate the factors leading to economic stagnation for a segment of the white population (primarily blue collar without a college degree). Resentment in this population led to the rise of populism and paved the way to victory for former President Donald Trump. In this context, it is easy to blame racial/ethnic minority people for the problems of the country. For many people, MAGA represented Making America Great by making it white. At the end, attacks against critical race theory and multicultural education are efforts by a sector of the white population to maintain control of the schools and society. This is un-American! Critical race theory and multiculturalism promote “Liberty and Justice for All.”
Dr. Javier Tapia is an associate professor of educational studies and community studies at UW-Milwaukee with a specialty in public anthropology, Latino affairs and global educational studies.
Marilynn Weiland says
Thank you. Clear and concise. I appreciate the references to books on the subjects.
It’s because its racist drivel. There are many ancient white ethnicities being white washed and renamed to make people like you feel better about spouting such racist ideas. I would refer you to watch the many YT videos by amazing POC contradicting the rubbish you just posted for the dumb ones in the back. You should give them a listen for the actual arguments against.
Mary Kay Wagner says
Please Catherine, if you are going to disagree with a respected academician, do not reference You Tube. Content on You Tube does not undergo any kind of refereed review process. The result is that much of what you see there is inaccurate at best, but more likely to be out right false. I suggest you read Howard Zinn’s, People’s History of the United States as a start.
Frankly, I have no clue as to what you mean by ancient white ethnicities being white washed. I find it particularly curious because the concept of human races in a modern, European concept. The term “white race” was first used in the English colonies of Virginia and Maryland in the 1690s. At that time white meant Northern European and Protestant. That definition changed. The process of how that definition changed is at the core of racism in this country.
One last point, racism is a form of oppression. It is based on human prejudices and biases, for sure. Everyone has biases and prejudices. To rise to the level of racism, one must have the power to establish and enforce the inherent superiority of one group over all others. As well as to structure legal, social, economic, and political systems that benefit the superior group while disadvantaging all others. Racism is about power. BIPOC do not have now nor ever did have that kind of power in this country.
Steve Baldwin says
No sensible person can deny racism and its impact (past and present) on minorities in this country, and I support the teaching of truth. However, not everything is racism. Here is an example:
When Europeans encountered other peoples in the 16th century, most observers would agree that the European culture with its literacy, numeracy and skills with metals and science was more advanced. These other peoples did not simply jump into submission. They resisted and lost.
Does this mean these people were inferior human beings? No, their lives were well tuned for their environment. However, they were living in isolation, and when this isolation ended, they were faced with more advanced competition.
This was very clear to the Europeans, and it was also clear to the cultures they encountered. Native American tribes purchased manufactured goods such as knives and metal pots from the Europeans. Meanwhile, Europeans purchased raw materials such as furs from Native Americans. This is classic economic hierarchy.
As for land, the Europeans were supporting their civilization with advanced agriculture. It freed them from the need to continually migrate. They viewed the fact that Native Americans did not have a system of titles and ownership for land as wasteful of a valuable resource.
The modern lesson I am trying to drive home here is that engagement with the world and competing to have the best technology and skills is important. Even now, other nations are vying to take our place, and make no mistake – if we become less competitive, our quality of life will decline. This is a law of life and of economics.
Racism does not offer a complete explanation of colonialism, and if we deny these other explanations we may easily end-up on the poorer end of the next economic and cultural confrontation.
I believe that human being are naturally inclined to self-destruction, and more inclined to self-destruction based upon their evolutionary environments, for example, when a peoples natural environment is cold, that people will develop tools to protect them from the cold. They will develop tools to hunt down and kill animals so that they can eat. There is no food growing from a ground that is filled with snow, no trees creating fruit so that the people can eat naturally. They have to kill something to survive. They have to drink the blood of that which they kill, you can never get all the blood out of that which you have killed. Then, because there is little living things to kill, such as wholly mammoths, those that killed the wholly mammoth must now kill his neighbors, who are as hungry as he is and would not hesitate to kill those who have killed the mammoth, because the neighbors want his food. It is cold and the wind will freeze you to death. Nature has been an expression of God for humanity for as long as homo sapien has existed. Now, because this man has to hide from the natural environment which God has left him to, he develops a fear of God, because he has to kill other man, he develops a resentment for those who look different from him, his social setting evolution. This person has evolved into being destructive of self and his environment, the animals and other human beings who he should encounter. He does not know any other way to relate to those he encounter, but with subversion, because he does not trust anything, anyone or his God.
Lets look at the social, and spiritual evaluation of those who evolve in warm climates. What we first notice is a relatively harmonious relations between the hominoids. One individual has an abundance of rice on his land and the other has an abundance of corn on his land. The two individuals come together to trade rice and corn. In the process they are developing human social relations between each other. They develop tools to assist them carry their product from one place to another. These tools are fashioned to assist in the growth of the man, his neighbors and his land. They are not developed with the mind of killing his neighbors and the animals on the land. Ancient Egyptian social policy was, “Feed the stranger at the gate”. Early Neanderthal (the homo-erectus/homo-sapien of cold Europe) was to “kill that which was not like me”. The land was warm, therefore, the land could bear beans, potatoes, collard greens and many variety of foods to eat, including rice and corn. God is good to me, so I develop an affinity for God and Good. The weather is warm, so I don’t fear God, I love God with a love that I need not fear (God-fearing cold weather dweller). And this is how I see the world, not as something to fear, but as something to embrace.
Now, these two cultures meet. The culture from the cold weather has the perspective that the other guy is to be fears and suspicious of. He may have to be killed in order that I can protect what I have or what I must pillage from him. I have tools that are made for killing people. The perspective of the person from the warm climate sees the stranger as one to be fed at the gate, or one as a human being. The truth is that the man from the warm climate is not aware of the perspective of the man from the cold climate. This is a perspective of savagery and killing.
So, we look at the scenario and conclude that the man with the tools to subdue and kill all the human beings is more sophisticate than the man who has developed a since of comraderies and human relations with his fellow man. We think that technological advance has made us more intelligent and sophisticated. In that society, technological advance is moving ahead at light speed while sociological advancement is moving at a snales pace. It is the growing space between the two advancements that will manifest the inevitable outcome for human beings on earth. That difference will result in a big bang and the earth will no longer exist. Don’t think it cannot happen. It happened on a planet that use to be situated between earth and mars. Now that planet is a large collection of rock, (carbonatious chondrikes), meaning that that planet was better situated than earth to have had life which, over time, became highly technologically sophisticated. This is the reason it is better for us on earth to do away with racisms and hatred, they will kill us.
Steve Baldwin says
You’re saying that ancient warm-climate civilizations did not have cultural conflict? Try telling that to the competing Sumerian city-states; the Egyptians and the Sea Peoples; the Egyptians and the Assyrians; the Philistines, Canaanites and Israelites, etc…
I agree that we must change from blind hatred to an acknowledgment of the positive values we see in other cultures. It is in our-own best interest to do so. And maybe we can reduce conflict to competition. But we will never eliminate competition. It’s part of Nature – or God, or a higher power, if you will.
Dr. Tapia has some good points, except for omitting:
– Mexico had their own home-grown flavors of slavery looong before Columbus landed.
– The fact of Latin America’s generally ghastly history of racism and slavery.
– Only the U.S.A. even had a Civil War to fight against slavery.
In fact, “The only men in power, ever, in the history of the World who deliberately set about abolishing slavery were White Men of Western Civilization.” -anon
Greeba, there was no “Mexico” before Columbus landed, just like there was no “United States.” There were various native tribes, some of the advanced enough to be called empires. Did they practice slavery? Some did. Some even practiced human sacrifice. So what? That’s not relevant.
As for Latin America, it has no big history of racism and slavery. Spain instituted a feudal-like system that tied natives to the land, but it was not slavery.
And only the US needed to have a civil war over slavery. Slavery in the rest of the American continent was abolished when Latin American countries became independent from Spain, more or less all at the same time. Mexico’s attempt to enforce its anti-slavery laws were the reason Texas seceded from Mexico. Defending slavery is the who reason there was an Alamo.
You say “Spain instituted a feudal-like system that tied natives to the land, but it was not slavery.” Then you say “Slavery in the rest of the American continent was abolished when Latin American countries became independent from Spain, more or less all at the same time.” — The contradictions are rich!