WASHINGTON — Tough talks around race are seemingly more than just uncomfortable for some Republicans. Many of them are calling an ideology for discussing systemic racism harmful.
“Critical Race Theory (CRT) is designed to drive divisions in people beginning at a very young age, teach young people how bad and racist America is, and it's so preposterous,” said Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah.
Congressman Grothman and many other conservative lawmakers believe CRT actually purports racism. Prof. Gary Peller, a professor at Georgetown Law who helped to develop CRT decades ago, questions whether the congressman and other critics understand it.
“Critical Race Theory does not believe that white people are essentially evil or racist or anything like that,” said Peller. “We don't believe that, that anyone should be shamed about their race or the color of their skin.”
Peller describes CRT as a concept that acknowledges racism as a systemic problem that can be found in American laws and institutions.
“It means recognizing that our American history has been, not exclusively but substantially, formed by consciousness about race and racial interests and all of that racial practices,” he said. “And to not see that is just to be willfully blind to the realities of American society.”
Several GOP-led states have enacted or are considering laws banning the theory from public schools.
At the beginning of the month, Wisconsin joined the list. Republicans in the state legislature introduced legislation that goes further, also blocking local governments and state agencies from training employees on such concepts.
“This legislation teaches children as equal under the law,” said State Rep. Chuck Wichgers, R-Muskego, the sponsor of the bill. “Children possess the right to nondiscrimination based on immutable characteristics based on race and sex.”
Prof. Ravi Perry, political science professor at Howard University, sees these legislative efforts as an attempt by Republicans to rile up their political base.
“It’s the old playbook, the same playbook that has been used for centuries, to suggest that a study of those folks who have been oppressed in this country is somehow racist,” said Pro. Ravi Perry. “[CRT] is the most honest and thorough way in which we can assure that people of all backgrounds, all races, all religions, all languages can, in fact, learn about not just the diversity that exists, but learn about how race has been made a social construction. It has been embedded in our legal political and social institutions and has been embedded in those institutions still impacts our lives today, which is why we have the disparities that we do.”
Rep. Grothman says CRT is indeed a problem. He says someone told him about a teacher in Sheboygan who blamed arrests by police on racism. He sponsoring a bill to ban the theory in D.C. public schools.
“I don't like to use Congress to order the Fort Atkinson (Wisconsin) Schools and tell them ‘this is how you have to run,’” said Rep. Grothman. “But we do have authority over the District of Columbia Schools, and that's what we're targeting.”
Because D.C. is not a state, Capitol Hill can enact laws that affect city affairs.
“The notion that this academic theory would have captured Republicans, even to the point of trying to impose it on the District of Columbia tells you that they are not focused where the American people are in certainly not where District of Columbia residents are,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-District of Columbia.
Republicans have introduced several other bills aimed at blocking CRT from being instructed in public institutions, all unlikely to move out of the Democrat-controlled House.